The two men were speechless.
Cole turned away, pressing his hands down to the concrete wall and gazing hopelessly out to the city. Alphonse, on the other hand, was wide-eyed as he swallowed something in his throat, his eyes flicking from him to me.
“I am an old man,” he replied, “and I have lived a life without love or happiness. My entire life has been focused on my work, with no time for building a life with someone else…something built on love. I understand the hole it has placed in my heart, and my beliefs bind me to expect a certain…standard in the men that I do business with. I am a traditional man, after all.
“When Cole tried to appease me, he told me he was a dying man. It only solidified my direction – I needed him to experience love, true love, before he passed away.”
My eyes grew wild. “And in your great wisdom, Mister Megami, you have only hurt him further,” I told him under no uncertain terms. “And you have hurt me. We passed your test – we fell in love. And now I have to go the rest of my life knowing that I will never, ever meet a man as loving, as capable, as passionate as the broken man you see before you. Everyone else will be lesser.”
“Do you not think,” he asked quietly, “that it is better to have loved and lost?”
I looked at this foolish, elderly man, forcing his worldview onto the last gasps of his desperate, dying partner – someone who only wanted to leave the people dependent on him better. My blood began to boil in my veins.
“Try it,” I told him with thinly veiled anger. “The people who say that? They have no fucking idea of what they’re talking about. Loss is one of the most painful things in this world, and you made us both go through that.”
He swallowed his mounting fury and lifted his chin.
“I don’t care that you want to live vicariously through Cole,” I told him, pointing at my husband. “You think he hasn’t loved? He’s loved his employees all along. What use does he have for money now? He’s wants to disperse most of it between them and use the rest to help people the world over! And you, what will you do with the billions his company will eventually earn you? Hire another of your presidents and stack money even further into the sky? What will your legacy be?”
“Kiona,” Cole began, still hunched by the wall.
“You really don’t get it. He’s jumping through your hoops with honorable intentions in his heart,” I continued. “You want to see love? He wants every last person under his care to get their cut. He wants to die knowing that they – and their families – have a chance to end their struggles. Is that a good enough metric for you?”
The tears were flowing freely now, and I could hear my voice cracking as I went on. “And me – he was going to leave me what was left along with years of work that will require nothing less than my life’s dedication to see accomplished. Do you think that’s what I want? Money? Power? Recognition? That’s not good enough. I want him. I don’t give a damn about the money – how am I supposed to carry on without him? All this time, I’ve been looking for something solid that I could build my life around. I’ve wanted a foundation. I’ve found one. How do I go on knowing that the most perfect man dropped into my life, and that the world is cruel enough to kill him a few weeks later? Do you think stopping to smell the damn roses is going to change that?”
“Kiona…” Cole continued to moan.
“You have punished us, and for what? Nothing.”
Alphonse stared open-mouthed at me. “I didn’t…I only meant…you…” He turned to Cole. “I’ve seen everything I need to. Your wife…I never thought I would see such conviction. I was convinced you were a foolish man, and that you meant to try and trick me on this condition. But it is clear to me now that you both have fulfilled my requirements…and I am so sorry. Perhaps I was the fool all along. I have your signatures, and I’ll add my own effective immediately.”
I heard a crumpling noise, and I immediately turned.