Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 11

Republisher’s Note: Manny are uncomfortable in their marriage of convenience and not communicating.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 11

A decade had been erased in an instant. During that kiss the memory of being with Danny in the guesthouse came back with such power that she was lost in it.

Michelle pulled through the crowd, nodding and smiling automatically when people congratulated her or commented on Danny’s performance. She didn’t hear a thing they said. She finally found herself in the kitchen and bypassed the staff working there, ending up in a sort of pantry where the tableware was stored. She closed the door behind her and sat on the stepladder under the china cabinet, wondering how long she would be able to remain there before she was discovered.

I’m as much in love with him as ever, she thought. It was depressing to admit that nothing had changed in all the time they’d been apart, but lying to herself wasn’t going to help. She was sitting with her arms wrapped around here knees when the door opened suddenly and Mrs. Jensen walked into the room. She stopped short when she saw Michelle.

“My dear, what are you doing in here?” she asked, startled.

“I, uh…” Michelle said.

“Aren’t you feeling well?”

“I guess not,” Michelle said seizing upon the excuse. “I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I just needed to be alone for a few moments.”

Mrs. Jensen picked up the silver set she’d come to get and handed it through the door to one of the caterers. “Well, you must come upstairs and lie down in the guest room.”

“Oh, don’t go to any trouble…” Michelle began, feeling trapped by her lie.

“Nonsense. I’ll show you to the room and bring you a cup of tea. Then I’ll go and find that handsome husband of yours.”

“No,” Michelle said quickly. Too quickly. Mrs. Jensen stared at her. “I mean,” Michelle amended,’I want him to have a good time.

“But he’ll be concerned about your absence, won’t he?”

“Not for a while. He was talking to some of the men when I left him, and he was absorbed in the conversation.

“All right. Come along now, I want you to rest. Do you think something disagreed with you?”

“No, I’m sure it was just the champagne. I really shouldn’t drink the stuff, its been disagreeing with me lately,” Michelle smiled weakly.

“It’s this way,” the older woman said, leading her through the kitchen and up the back staircase to the second floor of the mansion. They passed an elaborate master bedroom and bathe decorated in neutral tones. “Here we are.” She switched on a bedside lamp and said, “Just make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring up the tea in a bit.”

“Please, that’s not necessary. I’ve kept you from your guests long enough.”

“Don’t be silly. You ARE one of my guests. Be back in a jiffy.” Mrs. Jensen went out, closing the door. Michelle felt ashamed about lying to such a nice lady, but the alternative would have been to tell her the truth, that she was hiding in a china closet from her husband.

Straightforward people like Mrs. Jensen did not understand such things.

Michelle read a magazine she had found on a rack near the bed, until Mrs. Jensen returned with a flowered teapot on a little tray. Michelle made small talk until her hostess left and then dutifully drank some of the tea. It wasn’t long before there was a knock at the door. Thinking that one of the staff had arrived for the tray, Michelle said, “Come in.”

Danny entered the room and surveyed her with folded arms.

“Faking?” he said, raising his brows.

“Not exactly,” Michelle replied. “Mrs. Jensen found me and jumped to conclusions. I didn’t dissuade her.”

“Where did she find you?”

“In the pantry,” Michelle mumbled.

“Where?”

“In the pantry,” she said loudly.

He sat on the edge of the bed, like a parent reasoning with a child who refused to sleep. “Why were you in the pantry?” he said patiently, as if it were a normal question.

“I wanted to get away.”

“You wanted to get away from me.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Who, then?” he said sarcastically. “I was the one who kissed you.”

Michelle stared at him, annoyed by his tone.

“Perhaps I wanted to get away from the hordes of your ex-girlfriends parading through the room downstairs.”

“Are you on that kick again?” he demanded. “Remember the bimbo bin?”

“I am not imagining this one. Half of the women at this party are your ex-lovers, and I think you knew they would be here.”

“Are you suggesting that I set you up?” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“What would you call it?”

“I would call it George Jensen inviting the entire community to come to his party.”

“Did you know who was coming tonight?”

“I am not his social director. I can’t help it if he invited some women I used to date.”

“Date? Date? Come on Danny, you did a lot more than date them.”

“So what if I did?” he demanded, standing. “I suppose you’ve been in a convent for the last ten years.”

“We’re not talking about me,” Michelle said.

“We are now. I know why you didn’t want me to come tonight.”

“Of course you know why. I don’t like putting on a show, pretending to have something that doesn’t exist.”

“That’s not the real reason.”

“Then what is?” she said, playing along.

“You know that people think you married me, to hang on to the family ranch.”

“Danny, nobody thinks that,” she said, surprised by how much this apparently bothered him.

“I think that, ” he said flatly. “You wouldn’t be in this if your father hadn’t forced it on you, you certainly never would have married me. Have you even thought of me in all the time since you left?”

“I’ve thought of you,” Michelle said quietly.

“I’ll bet, you thought about a ridiculous teenage crush you were glad to leave behind the instant you entered college. I became an embarrassing memory.”

“How dare you say that to me?” Michelle said, sitting up. “You know that we agreed…”

“Can we stop talking about agreements and arrangements one minute? How do you feel? Did you want to come here? Are you happy being here now?”

“That’s not a fair question,” Michelle began, and he held her hand.

“I don’t want to hear that,” he said. “Fair, unfair, all of your talk boils down to one thing, you can’t wait to dump both me and the ranch and run back to Springfield with your pockets full.

“Now wait a second, just because I talked to that man from Citrus Farms doesn’t mean I’ve made up my mind.”

“You can’t wait to dump me, then. Let’s leave the ranch a separate issue.”

“I can’t wait to dump you? You’re the one who avoids me.”

“You’ve made it perfectly clear…You don’t want me around you,” Danny said.

They were staring at each other hostilely when Mrs. Jensen knocked on the door.

“Michelle, are you still in here?” She opened the door and saw Danny. “I thought I heard voices.” she added, smiling. Her smile faded when she noticed their expressions.

“Is everything all right? she asked, looking at Danny.

“Everything is fine,” Danny replied. “I was just saying that since Michelle isn’t feeling well, I better go down and get the car. I would like to take her home.”

“I think that might be best,” Mrs Jensen said. “you two will have to come back another time when Michelle can stay longer.”

Danny left, and Mrs. Jensen said, “My dear, I hope you won’t think I’m prying, but is it possible that you’re pregnant?”

Michelle looked at her, nonplussed.

“Oh, I know you two haven’t been married that long, but I’m aware that young people nowadays don’t wait. And I must say it could be just the thing. I was telling my husband…” her voice trailed off and faltered into silence when Michelle did not respond.

“I don’t think I’m pregnant,” Michelle said quietly.

“Maybe you don’t know. The symptoms are there. When I was carrying my first, I couldn’t abide liquor in any form, it just turned my stomach on a dime.” Michelle looked away. “Well, you should check it out, just in case. Now let me clear these tea things away, and you take your time coming downstairs. If you’d like to rest a little more, that would be fine.”

“I’m feeling much better, thank you. And I appreciate your kindness.”

Mrs. Jensen left and Michelle felt absurdly like crying. That sweet lady, dreaming of happy families and happy babies, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. How long can I take this, Michelle wondered? It was turning out to be more difficult than even she had anticipated.

She glanced in the mirror above the dresser and straightened her sparkling straps, then marched out of the room and down the stairs. She was at the bottom by one of the old friends George had promised, and he took her to meet some more. She was distracted for a few moments while she talked to them, but the problems came back in a rush when she looked up and saw Danny standing to one side, watching her. She excused herself and went over to him.

“Waiting for me?” she asked.

“That’s my job, isn’t it?” he said

Michelle ignored that one and said, “I have to say goodnight to George and his wife.”

“I did that already. Let’s go.”

He was still acting distant as they went out to the car, and Michelle said, ‘What’s wrong now?”

“Martha Jensen just told me that she thinks you’re pregnant.”

Michelle glanced at him and then looked again. He was perfectly serious.

“Danny she thought I wasn’t feeling well and made an assumption,” she said, amazed. “We’re supposed to be married, how could I tell her that couldn’t possibly be the case?”

“Are you?” he said. “Pregnant?”

“Of course not. What are you talking about?”

He turned and faced her. “You wouldn’t be the first woman who found herself in that situation. Maybe you had a stronger motivation for marrying me than just your father’s will.”

Michelle slapped him as hard as she could, her eyes stinging with tears as if she were on the receiving end of the blow. “You are despicable. I’m not going anywhere with you. Drive home by yourself!” She turned and headed back for the house.

“Michelle,” He called after her. “Michelle. wait.”

She ignored him.

He stood uncertainly on the driveway, watching her walk back to the house, then jammed hands into his pockets and headed toward the car.

Michelle climbed the stone steps again and, once inside, told the maid that she needed to use the phone. The woman took her to a back room on the first floor, which turned out to be the library, and Michelle used the extension to call a cab.

The house was dark and silent when she got home. It was obvious that Danny had not returned, and Michelle assumed he was off comforting himself elsewhere.

She undressed and got into bed, but she couldn’t sleep. The events of the evening kept replaying themselves in her mind. She saw Danny’s face after he kissed her, and his expression when he accused her of being pregnant. She was falling into a doze when a loud thud from the kitchen snapped her awake.

She thought of burglars but realized it was much more likely to be Danny, drunk from his nocturnal escapade. She got up and went down the hall, thinking that her presence was forcing him to return to old, bad habits.

He was slumped on the floor in a sitting position, his back propped against the legs of a chair. His tux was ruined, the jacket ripped and stained, the shirt filthy and practically in ribbons. His mouth was bloody and his knuckles scraped raw. He was cradling his left side with his arm and wincing.

This scenario has a certain familiarity about it, Michelle thought as she knelt next to him. But as she took a closer look she realized that he wasn’t drunk, just hurt.

“Danny?” she said, shaking his shoulder.

He blinked up at her, seemingly dazed.

“What happened to you?”

“I got…jumped” he mumbled, trying to sit up straight.

“Where?”

“In…Tow…ouch…Town…, he said closing his eyes as she pushed his arm aside. She unbuttoned his shirt and found a large purpling bruise over his ribs. She touched it gingerly with a forefinger and he gasped.

“This looks bad, Danny. We should have it X-rayed. Something could be broken.”

He shook his head. “No, Hospital.”

She realized that it was more important for him to rest at the moment, so she helped him to stand and, supporting him with his arm across her shoulders, walked him down to his room. She switched on the light and eased him onto the coverlet. She took off his shoes and worked the jacket off his shoulders and down his arms, then tossed it onto the floor.

He fell back against the pillows and propped himself on his elbows, watching her as she wiped his mouth with a towel from his bathroom.

“This doesn’t look too bad,” she said. “I’m more worried about those ribs. How did this happen?”

“Some old business associates…of my Mother’s…used me as a punching bag.”

“Who did?”

“Some Mobsters..hitmen…”

“Why, Danny?”

“They know I don’t want to sell the ranch,” he said. “They want…me to..se….sell so that I can become part of….they want..me to join, get the family united again , and I told them…no”. The speech exhausted him, and he fell back, drained.

And I guess it didn’t help that they heard your wife was undecided, Michelle thought. She had probably brought this on by entertaining Mr. Morse. She finished cleaning Danny’s face. When she couldn’t get his shirt off the conventional way, she got Rosa’s sewing scissors from the den and cut it off him. It was a loss anyway.

She brushed his side as she was pulling the scraps of material from his body, and he flinched visibly.

“Danny, I still have some pain pills,” Michelle said. “Do you want some?”

He made a dismissive gesture. “No pills, I’m thirsty.”

“I’ll get you some water.” She went to the kitchen, filled a glass and then on impulse got the bottle of pain pills from her room. Her dosage had been two, so she guessed Danny would need two and a half. She crushed them up with a mortar and pestle that Rosa kept in the utility drawer and dissolved the powder in the water.

She returned to Danny’s bedroom, and he drained the glass when she held it to his lips.

“Can I get you anything else?” she said. He shook his head. But when she moved for the door, he grabbed her wrist. “Stay,” he said.

She hesitated.

He drew her to him with surprising strength, and she finally relented, stretching out next to him on the bed.

“Sorry” he muttered as she settled her head on the pillow.

“For what”? There were so many things for both of them to be sorry about.

“What I said…about…you being…pregnant,” his voice was growing fainter, slightly slurred.

“Forget it. Just take it easy.”

“I was jealous,” he sighed, his arm tightening around her.

“Jealous?”

“Of the father,” he mumbled.

“Danny, there is no father, because there is no baby,” Michelle said, turning her head to look at him.

He was asleep.

She let her head fall to his shoulder, being careful not to jostle his injured side, and soon she went to sleep also.

When Michelle woke she didn’t realize where she was at first. It was the middle of the night, the room was not her own, and there was somebody in bed with her.

In seconds her memory returned and with it the awareness that Danny was also stirring, pulling her into the curve of his body.

“Baby,” he said locking, his hands over her stomach. He was still obsessed with the idea and now doped he wasn’t thinking clearly.

“Sh,” Michelle said, aware that he didn’t know what he was saying. He pushed her flat on the bed and bent, placing his cheek next to her belly. Michelle didn’t move, afraid to struggle with him and injure his side. “Not my baby,” he murmured. “She wouldn’t want my baby.”

His voice was so forlorn that Michelle was touched. Her heart was pounding as he wrapped his arms around her hips. He won’t remember this in the morning, she told herself reassuringly. “Don’t love me anymore,” he said, shaking his head. “I missed my chance.”

What was he talking about? Michelle wondered, trying to piece together his ramblings. “I should have done it then,” he said and dropped his hands to her ankles, then ran up her legs, under the hem of her gown. Done what? She thought, panicked as he reached her thighs. She twisted away, closing her eyes. He doesn’t know what’s happening, you can’t allow this, she told herself. But part of her did not want him to stop. Suddenly he pinned her and rolled on top of her, pressing her into the mattress. She could feel him hard against her thighs, he may have been medicated, but he was far from incapable.

Michelle bit her lip in frustration. Why was it her luck to be in bed with this man only when he was half asleep or drugged out of his mind? It wasn’t fair.

“Love me now,” he said. “Love me again.” He kissed her, and she responded long enough for him to relax his hold. Then she pushed him off her and vaulted from the bed.

He stared at her hazily in the dark and rolled onto his side, breathing heavily. After a few moments his respiration slowed and became even.

Michelle shrank against the wall, her hand to her mouth. She waited until she was sure he was asleep again before she crept from the room. Please don’t let him remember it, she thought as she went across the hall to her own bedroom.

And please let me forget it, too.

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