* * *
Back at the apartment I took a long soak in the claw foot tub that stood in the center of my adjoining bathroom. Sure, it was midday, but today was no ordinary day. Today had been possibly the most intense of my adult life, and it most certainly could have been worse. Still, I needed to take things down a notch. I took a little sip of my white wine when the phone rang beside me, startling me as it shattered through my moment of peace and momentarily silencing the soundscapes playing through my phone.
“Erica, it’s Max.”
“Oh, hi.” I pushed myself up in the tub and glanced around for anything I could write on if I needed to.
“Is this a good time?”
“Sure,” I lied, embarrassed that I was about to have a business conversation in the tub.
“So good news. The deal is all set. I’m reviewing it for any final edits right now, and we should be ready to sign off tomorrow.”
“That’s perfect. I can be there in the morning, if that works for you.” My nerves would be shot if we scheduled it any later.
“Great. I’m really looking forward to working with you, Erica.”
“Likewise, Max. I can’t thank you enough.”
“You can actually. Thank me with a return on the investment.”
A little pang of fear shot through me. “I’ll do my best,” I promised.
“Oh, and dinner tonight. I’d like to celebrate with my new business partner.”
I smiled, but my excitement was dampened by the very recent memory of my last business dinner going horribly wrong. What were the chances I could get through another one without Blake delivering death threats and choke holds?
“I actually have plans in the evening, but how about a celebratory lunch, my treat?”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow, Erica.”
We said our goodbyes and I sank back in the warm water of the tub, enlivened by the sudden reality that with these funds, my entire existence was about to change. I’d been lying low the past few weeks, waiting for this big break. Now, in a matter of hours, we’d be funded and we could begin operating on a much larger scale. I’d have employees, payroll, paperwork, and problems that I couldn’t possibly anticipate right now.
The future was uncertain and scary as hell, but a little flutter of excitement grew within me. I’d never felt more ready for the challenge. I sent up a little prayer to the universe that I wouldn’t screw it up.
I was very relaxed and a little buzzed when Blake came in.
“Hard day at the office?” He sat on the lip of the tub where my feet propped up out of the bubbles.
“I need a down day before my life gets busy.”
“After tomorrow, I’m sure it will.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, hoping against hope that somehow he didn’t know about a deal going through his own firm.
“Yes, I know you’re finalizing everything with Max tomorrow,” he said. “Can we talk about alternatives?”
“No, we can’t, Blake, because we’ve already discussed this and the answer is no.” I sounded as resolute as I could without yelling.
“You don’t even know Max, and you’re willing to hand over ownership of your company to him,” he continued, and I could tell he was digging in to win this.
Fuck. “That’s what I’d be doing with you. What’s the difference?”
“I never said I wanted ownership. You could give me common stock, or we could call it a loan. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I meant, Erica.”
I rose from the tub, wet and covered in bubbles. “Can you hand me my towel?”
“Not until we talk about this.” He didn’t budge.
He stared at me, his arms folded resolutely across his chest, seeming only slightly distracted by my nakedness. Fortunately I could live without the towel.
“You need to stop this,” I snapped.
“You need to trust me,” he said.
Something about the way he said it gave me pause. Why was this suddenly so important to him? What had changed between us over these few weeks that made the possibility of investing with Max so unbearable to him? I would have asked if I thought he’d give me a straight answer. Regardless, nothing he could say would change my mind. I had made my decision. He would know once and for all that I was not his to own and control.
I stepped out onto the tile floor, nearly slipping on the soapy water I’d brought with me from the tub. He moved to help me, but I yanked away from reach.
“This conversation is over,” I said. “You have serious control issues and I recommend you seek therapy to work through them, because clearly I can’t help you.”
“Okay, I have control issues, and you have serious trust issues, Erica. We could probably both use some therapy.”
I glared at him. At least my trust issues were rooted in legitimate experiences. Blake’s control issues no doubt came from his success, which, as far as I knew, was hardly traumatic. Beyond, I’d always hated therapy. His insinuation that I needed it, throwing my words back at me, made me feel small. Flawed.
I grit my teeth and wrapped a towel around me. “Go to hell.”
“Baby, this is who I am. I’m hardwired this way. And if I’m trying to take control over the situation, please understand that I have very solid reasoning for it.”
I took a deep breath, determined not to turn this into a bigger disaster. “It’s simple, Blake. I need checks and balances in my life. I’m not about to go all in on you, mind, body and business, and then have you ordering me around like your little submissive puppet. It would break me. It would break us.” I pulled the plug and my energy drained with the bathwater. Too much had happened today, and I was seconds from going nuclear on him. “It’s already breaking us.”
“You’ve made your decision then?” His calm voice sent an unexpected shiver of fear through me.
“It’s final. Deal with it.” I retreated to the bedroom to find my comfy sweatpants.
Blake was eerily silent, and when I returned, he was gone. I sighed with relief until a wave of sadness flooded me, making me weak to the bone. He was gone. I collapsed onto the bed. The line between my loneliness for him and my overwhelming anger blurred as I stared at the ceiling. This was just a fight. Couples had them all the time and we’d work through it.