Welcome to this week’s excerpt of Cut to the Chase. To read the previous installments, click here
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The Mabrary Springs boys and girls varsity basketball teams were invited to participate in weekend tournament in Florida, and Renny would be gone until Monday evening. CJ and Cam spent the weekend with my mom and me. Janay and her children also joined us. My mother’s home was filled with the squeals and laughter of five children all under the age of ten. Momma was pleased to have all of us under her roof, and it just confirmed that I made the right decision. With or without Renny, I was glad to be home.
Later on that evening, I lie awake, carefully considering my mother’s words. What did I want? Could I be happy and content in Mabrary Springs? Was the happiness and fulfillment I sought elsewhere always right here in this little town? In the middle of the night, the answer shined brightly before me. I knew where I belonged and where I wanted to remain.
I called Alexjandra, Javier’s assistant, early the next morning to get his travel itinerary for the week. She shared this information without any hesitation. In the past, I would have been privy to these details as I would normally accompany him and be intimately involved in the negotiation. Before we ended the call, Alexjandra asked about the boys and expressed her condolences on the loss of their grandfather, ending with “I’ll see you soon” before we disconnected. It was clear Javier had not informed anyone of my resignation.
I hit the road Monday morning before daybreak, headed to Charlotte, North Carolina to talk to Javier face-to-face. This was something I needed to do before I could move forward. My departure had been rather abrupt, and I felt I owed him an explanation in person as opposed to over the phone. I packed an overnight bag as a precaution, but I hoped to be back in Mabrary Springs by nightfall before Renny returned.
A creature of habit, I knew exactly which hotel Javier preferred while in Charlotte. According to Alexjandra, he flew in late Sunday evening, but his meetings did not start until Tuesday afternoon. This meant he would be in his suite preparing all day. And while I hated to disturb his preparation, I could not delay this conversation off any longer.
I arrived in Charlotte just before the lunch hour and drove straight to The Ballantyne. I called Javier from the car.
“Hello Elaine,” his greeting formal and business-like. “What can I do for you?”
I dove right in. “Javier, we need to talk,” my return equally as terse and emotionless. “I’m here in Charlotte, right outside the hotel actually.”
“I see. I’ll meet you in the lobby. Ten minutes.” He disconnected the call.
I took a deep breath and went inside. Despite the circumstances, I was glad I had a reason to visit this hotel again. Javier enjoyed luxury accommodations, and The Ballantyne didn’t disappoint. He approached me as I stood at the entry to the terrace, keeping a safe distance, his manner cold and stiff. To the casual observer, we appeared to be two strangers instead of former lovers.
“I apologize for showing up unannounced, but I needed to see you right away.”
“Obviously. Would you like to talk out here, or do you need somewhere more private?”
“Ummm, the terrace is fine.” He extended his hand, indicating that I should precede him. I walked to a table at the side of the building, tucked away in a corner, partially hidden by the lush greenery. Javier pulled out my chair before taking a seat directly across from me. In the past, he would have squeezed my shoulders before sitting next to me, sliding his chair as close as possible. He did not even move his chair up to the table, sitting a few inches away, resting his right leg on his left knee, his arms resting casually on the arm rest. To the untrained eye, he looked calm and relaxed, but I knew this was Mr. Arenas, preparing for battle, walls firmly in place, armed to the teeth.
Leaning forward to close some of the distance between us, I made an attempt at civility. “How are you, Javier?”
“I’m doing well, Elaine. And you?” He replied coolly.
“I’m fine. Doing quite well actually.”
“Glad to hear it. How’s the family?”
“They’re doing well also.”
“Javier, I wanted to talk to you in person. I’ve made a decision.” He didn’t respond verbally, just raised an eyebrow indicating that I should continue.
I took a deep, fortifying breath. “I’m leaving Arenas. I’ve decided to move back home, to Mabrary Springs.”
I nodded. “Yes. I think it’s for the best. I need to be there for my children and my mother.” I looked off into the distance, giving my words a chance to settle.
“So you are resigning? Officially?”
“Yes.” I stated emphatically.
“Why are you going back home? Elaine, when I met you, you were miserable there. I gave you an opportunity to escape. So why go back?”
“I wasn’t miserable,” I began.
“You were.” Javier interrupted. Of course, Javier wouldn’t let me off the hook that easily. He wanted an explanation, and I owed him that. It was the reason I drove five hours.
“I guess I wanted my old life back, back then. I spent my entire youth dreaming about getting out of Mabrary Springs, and once I finally made it, I had to go back. I felt like I was missing out on something, like everything I’d accomplished was for naught. I felt stuck.”
“What’s changed in the past couple of years?”
“I’ve changed, Javier. Me. The things I want, and the things that really matter to me are so different now. I miss seeing my boys every day. They have a great father, but they need me too. I am so fortunate to still have my mother; she could have died right along with my dad. I need to take advantage of that blessing, Javier. I need them just as much as they need me.”
Javier looked right through me, contemplating my words. “Now what?” Translation: what about us? Never one to show his full hand, I’d become skilled at reading between the lines and listening to what Javier did not say.
“We want different things, Javier. You are growing Arenas, trying to take over the world. You can’t do that from Mabrary Springs, Georgia. You wouldn’t last a week.” I added with a smirk.
He finally looked at me with a hint of a smile, “I spent six months there, after I acquired First National.”
I laughed. “You spent six months in Atlanta and commuted back and forth.”
“Guilty.” He admitted, and we shared a laugh. “So what about work?”
“Well, thanks to the six month non-compete clause in my contract and the generous severance package, I have about a year before I really need to worry about that, don’t you think?”
“Yes, the infamous severance package. The first time ever at Arenas.”
“What can I say? I learned the art of negotiation from the best.”
“I’ll miss you, Elaine. More than you’ll ever know.” Javier admitted.
“Thank you, Javier. The feeling is mutual. I can’t thank you enough. For everything.”
He leaned forward and grabbed my hands. “It was my pleasure, Elaine. I told you before, you are priceless.” We sat there with our hands joined, enjoying our final moment. I committed him to memory: the depth of his onyx eyes, the sharp tilt of his jaw, his intense stare. No matter what happened, Javier would always hold a special place in my heart.
“How are the preparations? Ready for the meeting tomorrow?”