Authors: Harper Bliss
“Wasn’t that hard to do?”
“Not if you know from the start and you act accordingly. Michelle and I never went on romantic breaks to Thai islands together like other couples did, for instance, because we weren’t a couple.”
“You were friends with benefits.”
Robin nodded. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t have feelings for her. We’re still close. I talk to her every week. She’ll come visit me in a couple of months. But we’re not together, because we never were.”
This caught Micky’s attention more than anything else Robin had said. “So, when this Michelle comes over, will she be staying with you?”
“Yes, of course. She’ll be sleeping on the couch, though.” Robin scrunched her lips together. “The only way to know if you’re really cut out for this, is to try, Micky. I promise to take your feelings into consideration as much as I can and to always be completely honest with you. I will never deceive you and will always be up-front about everything. That’s how I live.”
Then the alarm on Micky’s phone buzzed. She’d set it just before she left the house so she could return home on time without rousing suspicion. “I have to go.”
Robin nodded. “I’ll see you at The Pink Bean this week, and if for some reason I don’t, I’ll call you. Is that okay?”
“Yes. That would be fine.” Micky stared into Robin’s eyes a bit longer than she would into a friend’s without benefits. Then, she couldn’t stop herself. She slid off the stool and kissed Robin on the cheek. She had to feel her skin against her own, even for the briefest of moments. “See you,” she said, and turned on her heel.
Because of what her mother had told her on Sunday, Micky wasn’t overly surprised when Darren called later that week, asking if she could meet him for lunch at a restaurant near his office on Friday.
“My shift ends at twelve,” Micky said. “I can be there by one thirty.” She wasn’t going to meet Darren at one of the upscale restaurants he frequented for lunch straight after serving coffee for five and a half hours. She needed to go home and shower first. And there would be traffic to contend with. Perhaps she should try to get Darren to come to her and finally put a stop to how she had always accommodated him, because, after all, he was the one who brought home the bacon.
He still did. Micky’s lawyer had negotiated generous alimony payments for her, allowing her to afford the rent on her small but expensive new house in Darlinghurst. Micky didn’t feel guilty about it because she knew he could easily afford it and because, when she really started thinking about it, she had worked
Darren for eighteen years. She had given birth to their children, raised them in his frequent absence, and dealt with everything that comes with running a household on her own. All Darren ever had to worry about was going to work and making money. She wondered how he was coping now during the weeks he had the kids. Of course, they were so independent now, and Darren paid someone to cook them healthy dinners.
“Oh yeah, Liv told me you’re working at a coffeehouse now,” he said, with no audible judgment in his tone.
Micky could only conclude that Darren was feeling some kind of negative emotion about having to tell her about Lisa, otherwise he would surely have made a snide remark or, at the very least, inquired about whether she needed more money.
“One thirty is fine,” Darren said. “See you then.”
Now Micky was negotiating traffic, which was always such a pain in the ass in this direction, no matter the time of day. But she tried to keep an optimistic attitude, and it gave her some time to think. She imagined having to have the conversation that Darren wanted to have with her, having to tell him there was someone new in her life and it being a woman.
In the very beginning of their courtship, Micky had told Darren about Janet, the girl she had had a crush on in her last year of high school. But nothing had ever happened between Micky and Janet, and in the end, there hadn’t been that much to tell.
When Micky first breached the topic of separation, almost three years ago, one of Darren’s first questions had been whether there was someone else, but it wouldn’t even have occurred to him that, if there had been, it would most likely have been a woman. Or not. Micky was still buried so deep in the closet then. She didn’t even know what she wanted. All she knew was that she couldn’t be married to Darren anymore. That her life needed to change drastically and that the time had come for Micky Ferro to put herself first after giving the best years of her life—gladly and willingly—to her family.
What had Sheryl said last Saturday? That it took a lot of courage to do what Micky had done. To uproot her life the way she had. But for Micky, courage wasn’t what had made her take the first step away from Darren. It was pure necessity.
In the beginning, she’d had to put all her energy into making Darren understand that it wasn’t about him. It wasn’t. Darren Steele was a perfectly good man. He worked too hard, spent too much time away from home and his children, and when he was home, his mind was often elsewhere. But he was never aggressive in any way; he didn’t drink too much; he didn’t have time to even think about other women. But that was also what he had become to Micky. Acceptable. When she looked at him, she no longer found him dashing, sexy, or even particularly relevant apart from being the father of her children. They didn’t sleep in separate bedrooms, but they might as well have.
After fifteen years of marriage, it felt more as though they were simply going through the motions of how life should be, and Micky was so sick of it. And then there was that other thing.
After Janet, Micky had never had a crush like that on another woman again. Maybe because she didn’t allow herself to, or maybe because she was afraid.
Micky honked the horn at a taxi cutting her off. She was about to give him the finger as well but then thought better of it. Driving around with children in the backseat had taught her to control most of her impulsive reactions.
Her children. Micky had dedicated her life to her children. Now it was her turn.
Micky finally reached the underground parking lot. Back in the day, before she had been pregnant with Christopher, Micky often drove up to Sydney’s Central Business District to meet Darren for lunch. She could easily park in the streets back then. So much had changed since then.
✶ ✶ ✶
Because Micky picked the kids up from school after their week with Darren, she didn’t see him very often. They mostly spoke on the phone, and only when they had to.
She would never forget that deeply hurt look on Darren’s face when she’d first told him she wanted to separate. He looked as though she’d just told him someone had kidnapped Olivia. First there was shock and disbelief, then a flash of rage. But Darren was Darren, and he quickly composed himself, started to ask her questions so he could analyze the situation with his mathematical brain. “What have I done wrong?” “Which steps can we take to fix this?” “Is there someone else?”
It had cost so much energy to convince Darren that, all things considered, Micky wanting a divorce had little to do with him—in as far as that was possible. They were in the marriage together, of course, had built this life together.
“You look good, Micky,” Darren said now. Was that a touch of nostalgia coating his voice? He got up from the table where he’d already been sitting, glued to his phone screen when Micky walked in—Christopher and Olivia certainly didn’t get that tendency from a stranger.
“So do you.” It wasn’t even a lie. Darren had lost some weight around his waist. Micky guessed his new girlfriend might have something to do with that. Perhaps she got him to do what Micky never could: join a gym. “For your health,” Micky would say. “You need to burn off the stress somehow.” But Micky was hardly a good example herself. Granted, she was a regular at Amber’s yoga classes, but as far as Darren was concerned, yoga wasn’t exercise.
“How are the kids?” she asked as soon as she sat down. It was an automatic question she always asked Darren when they were with him. After the divorce, not having her kids live under her roof had been the biggest adjustment for Micky. Even if they spent a lot of their time in their rooms, just having them present in the house was enough for her. Not having them there for a week at a time was pure torture in the beginning. That was another reason Micky couldn’t stay in the house in Mosman. If she’d stayed there, too much would have remained the same.
“Olivia wants to go to a sleepover at April’s on Saturday. I’m going to call Chuck and see what’s what. I have a sneaking suspicion Allison is watching her younger sister while their parents are out of town.”
It was odd to hear Darren talk about things like that. Before the divorce, Micky would have always been the one to inform him about matters like these, but now he had to be involved in his children’s lives a lot more.
“Not to worry, I won’t let her stay with the Hartmanns unsupervised.” He held up a bottle of Perrier. “Water?” Darren would never drink alcohol if he had to go back to the office after lunch.
“How’s the job panning out?” he asked while pouring her a glass.
“It keeps me busy.” Micky drank from the water and glanced at Darren over the rim of her glass to gauge his reaction.
“I figured you weren’t doing it for the money.”
“Waitresses get a decent wage in Australia, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.” Of course, Micky wasn’t working at The Pink Bean for the money.
“Olivia did have something to say about it being The Pink Bean,” Darren said, taking Micky by surprise. “Is there anything you need to tell me, Micks?” Darren had a huge grin on his face.
Micky’s heart was beating furiously. For a split second, she thought her ex-husband had her all figured out. Then she realized he was just joking. Just like Micky for the longest of time, he didn’t have a clue.
“You’ll be the first to know,” she said in a tone that didn’t bear contesting.
A waiter brought over menus, and Micky buried her nose in hers, though she seemed to have lost her appetite.
After placing their order and talking about Olivia’s braces and a too-boisterous classmate Christopher seemed to be spending most of his time with at school, Darren cleared his throat. “There’s something you should know, Micky. I’ve met someone.” Darren never was one to beat about the bush.
Micky nodded thoughtfully.
“Her name is Lisa. I met her at The Brew Dog at Friday night happy hour. We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks now, and I would like to introduce her to the kids. It’s a little difficult not to, and they’re clever things. They’ll figure it out soon enough, if they haven’t already.”
“If they have, they haven’t spoken to me about it,” Micky said, then wondered if she should congratulate her ex-husband on getting it on with someone new. “Good for you, Darren. I’m happy you met someone.”
“She works in finance, like me. For the competition, though, so I’m not sure how that will work out.” He gave an awkward chuckle—Darren Steele was not an awkward-chuckle kind of man.
“Which bank?” Micky’s heart started thudding again.
“Goodwin Stark.” Darren didn’t think to ask why Micky was inquiring. Why would he?
Micky wished she had a glass of wine at her disposal. Her ex-husband’s new girlfriend was a colleague of the woman she had slept with. Fuck.
“I was planning on filling in the kids this weekend. Possibly tonight so I have the rest of the weekend with them in case they have questions. Then I could have Lisa over on Sunday so they can get to know her.” He drummed his fingertips on the tabletop. “Do you want to meet her?”
Micky didn’t know what the protocol was for this sort of thing. This woman would be in her children’s lives so she supposed she should at least get to know her a little. “In time. I trust your judgment.” Micky could not face sitting opposite Lisa any time soon, however. She would need some time to process all the information.
“I chose you, after all.” Darren really was full of jokes today. Maybe it was the effect of being in love again.
Micky quirked up her eyebrows, then said, “It’s okay. As I said, I trust you to have their best interests at heart.” Darren worked too much, but he had always been a good father. If anything, it was Micky who was feeling like a bad mother because of her own romantic interests. “I’ll meet her in due course.” Micky proceeded to tell Darren what her mother had told her.
“If it has reached the Mosman Beach Club, it’ll be all over Sydney in no time,” Darren said.
When she lived in Mosman, Micky had gone to the beach often—at least twice a week. She preferred to go in winter, when she could be alone and just have an hour to herself, thinking of nothing and just watching the tide roll in.
The trip to the beach she was to undertake that day would be very different from those back in the day, when she was still a married woman.
She was going to the beach with Robin.
It made her feel so giddy, Micky actually mocked herself when she passed a mirror and caught her reflection. “You silly twat,” she said to herself, then she would grin uncontrollably.
If it were up to Micky, they would skip this trip to the beach entirely and just go back to Robin’s flat. Every evening since that night, before she went to sleep, Micky allowed herself the delicious luxury of reliving the memory. The best part, for her, had been when Robin had said, “Not bad for a beginner.” Not the words as such, but the way she had said them. Her voice full of satisfaction, her pupils dilated, her smile so soft and convincing.
Micky was still a beginner, but the first-time nerves were out of the way now. All she wanted was to do it again, and again.
She packed her bikini, a towel, sunscreen, and her most glamorous pair of sunglasses into a bag, and went to pick up Robin. It felt so strange to drive her car through the few streets it took to get to Robin’s flat and pick up
. It was a brand new experience for Micky. It was exhilarating.
Robin was waiting for her outside her building and, as soon as she got into the car, handed Micky a paper cup of coffee from The Pink Bean.