Libertine, Downtown. 2:47 am, November 27th, 2018
Fortune Favors the Bold.
Or so she had been told. But she had been told many things. She had been told that it was what was on the inside that counts. She had also been told that being an NFL wife would be a wonderful life of travel, luxury, and fulfillment. She had been told to open her heart and love would find its way.
She had been told.
But now she sat alone, at the first stool of a dusty counter at another shuttered bar that never stood a chance in the Magic City. The once-spectacular chandeliers now hummed at the most minimum glow, providing just enough light for the lone patron to pour her next drink. Two fingers of Ron Del Barrilito, one ice cube.
She placed the half-drained bottle between her custom-engraved iPhone and a linen envelope bearing the simplest of inscriptions: L. A bottle of booze between expensive and flashy versus sincere and priceless. She scoffed — this was straight out of any of the countless romantic comedies she used to watch on Saturday nights in her room at the sorority house at A&M.
But she wasn’t laughing. The humor isn’t there when it’s your life, she thought.
Her phone vibrated, prompting the matching engraved watch on her wrist to light up with the message. The brightness caught her tired — and sneakily-drunk — eyes off guard. Squinting, she could make out only a couple words but she got the gist. It was the same message she had been getting for months; rehab was going well and he was going to put in a couple more hours.
She took off the watch and slid it in her handbag with her phone. She was alone. She had been alone all night. She didn’t need any more reminders that she would be going to bed alone.
She began to cry.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Miami was nice but it wasn’t her. Being part of the it crowd was intriguing but it wasn’t her. Having a husband devoted to his craft was so wonderful but this marriage — where she felt more like the mistress than the partner — it was not her. Even when she had settled. When she had looked around and accepted that comfort and security may be preferable to action and adventure. As so many romcoms had taught her, of course that would be when He had arrived and all those dreams of what could be came rushing back to her conciousness. He came into her life standing tall, walking proud, and carrying himself with a demeanor that casually declared, “I could be out exploring the Serengeti right now but, hey, I can do that after I leave Miami.”
Leave Miami. Just a dream for her anymore. Oh sure, the annual weekend trips Boston and New York were just swell. But when she heard — with excitement! — that her husband saw the opportunity to extend this season’s Buffalo trip a couple days so they could celebrate New Years “somewhere different”; it took everything inside her to flash that million-dollar smile and, as she felt obligated, nod approvingly.
And now this letter sat before her. She hoped what words were written on the stationary within. That there was some kind of clean way to basically change everything about her life. That there was some kind of dark secret to be exposed, allowing her to sever her ties with this Miami life and never look back.
But she knew better. She was the bad guy in all of this.
She tossed back her drink, slightly grimacing as the rum settled in her empty stomach. She felt bad, but not because of her inebriation, as she poured another. The settling feeling of a rock in her stomach came from her guilt. The same guilt she felt after every game when her husband jogged off the field, healthy and excited to devote another week to the NFL. The same guilt she felt when he signed a four-year extension to keep him — and therefore her — in Miami through 2021. It was the guilt of a happy woman who simply wanted more.
He’d given her so much and only asked for her support in return. She did support him; she really did. But she needed herself. She needed her own time. He was sacrificing his body but she was sacrificing her soul.
No time like the present, she pulled the envelope close and slid out two tri-folded sheets of matching stationary. The foil lining reflected the dull glow of the chandeliers into a remarkable display on the empty bar back before her. Another reminder that he could turn something as simple as a drop of light into beautiful gesture without even trying.
His handwriting was impeccable. The pointed dots above the i’s and smooth hooks along the g’s — she had tried to imitate his style since the first time he’d handed her his card with his personal information inked on the back. It was a fool’s errand. He wrote so beautifully because he wrote so free. There were no ink blots. There was no signs of broken flow or rushed scribbles. No forcing words into the margins. The letter was a smooth dictation of a sincere broker.
She read it in his voice:
My Dearest Lauren-
We have shared so much and connected so strongly that I pen this farewell to you with knowing that you’ve long known what the contents will be.
I spoke with Coach Flores this morning and he confirmed my fears — our fears — that the Dolphins intend to keep Ryan and release me to free agency soon.
Of all my stops in the NFL, Miami has been the most special to me and it was all because of you. From the moment Lin Sue pointed you out to me at the preseason mixer I have been consumed by you. Your beauty. Your intellect. Your being. All of you. You are a queen.
But, as much as I may covet as much, you are not my queen.
My travels shall continue and, while I suspect my next team may bring me through Miami again, I know — and you know — that what we have has come to an end.
Thank you for showing me what kind of a man I might be. I will never take for granted our time together and I will never forget what you told me that morning on the pier. I hope you will one day feel the freedom that I know awaits you.