Separates, Chapter 1: Late Nights

Geneva stood over a simmering pot, sighing listlessly while halfheartedly stirring clumps of brown rice. She stared over at the balcony door and out over at the Seattle skyline, wafting in the white noise of blaring horns and loud patrons happily shrieking as they made their way downtown to partake in the Friday nightlife. Coltrane played lightly in the background, faintly coming through to Geneva as she sullenly stood over two boiling pots, lightly patting the beads of sweat from her brow as the steam rose. The smell of baked chicken could be smelled all throughout the sky-level loft as it cooled in the oven. 

Unfortunately, her vetting of culinary prowess was not merely an unprovoked display of affection for her longtime husband Roman, but was also an olive branch of sorts. Their fighting had intensified over the past months, due in part to Geneva's long hours away from home and Roman's sudden indifference to their lack of sexual activity. Her suspicions were deeply aroused by his new regimen: different soap, a new cologne, and a makeover that would make even the most experienced editor at GQ stop him on the streets and ask for tips. What was it all for? They barely ever saw each other, so why was he suddenly breaking out the suit-and-tie look?

The doorknob begins to jiggle in a familiar manner, snapping Geneva out of her daze. Either Roman was a creature of habit, or he genuinely forgot that every night - for the past 11 years - that if Geneva arrived home first, the door was always unlocked, even though they lived in high-priced building with top of the line security. Before she could motion for the door to unlock it for Roman, the key was already turning and the door was opening. 

"Baby, you're home early," Geneva beamed, taking Roman's suitcase from his hand and greeting him with a kiss. He jerked his head away from her, his body language as cold as his cheek.

"What is that?" He curtly asked, looking into the kitchen. "Why are you cooking?"

"Gee, I don't know," Geneva responded in the same cadence. "It's Friday. I haven't had a weekend off in months, and I figured I'd cook my man his favorite baked chicken, macaroni and rice meal for him -"

"I told you that I was having a dinner meeting with Mr. Salado tonight," Roman snapped. He stomped over to the living room wall and pointed to the calendar, showing her the current day circled with a note on it. "Is there even a point in telling you anything? Because clearly if it's not coming from your man-deprived shrew of a boss, it might as well have never been said, huh?"

"First of all," Geneva began, raising her voice, "How the hell do you write something on a calendar that is sitting over in the corner that only you go over to, to sit in your dusty old chair to read your dusty old newspaper?"

"You wanna start getting loud now?"

"No, you are the one that decided to start, Roman. I'm sorry I didn't go all the way over to the corner to look at a fucking calendar to see that you had a dinner meeting tonight. Probably because no one has had a use for a calendar since forever... or a newspaper for that matter. We all have smartphones... you know, that thing in my pocket that you could have called or texted at anytime to let me know this."

"Right, you mean this phone?" Roman countered, pointing to Geneva's phone laying on the living room table. He walked past Geneva, slightly bumping her, making his way to the table. Picking up her phone, he held it out in front of her, his arm fully extended. 

"This phone. The same fucking phone I've been calling and texting for the past 5 months, not one of which you've bothered to respond to, mind you", He argued, roughly swiping her phone to unlock it. "The same phone that if I go through now, there will be probably 50 fucking messages telling you about the dinner meeting. Oh, and Charlie's dance recital that you promised her you'd go to..."

Geneva's heart sank. "Oh my god. Charlie's recital? When is it?"

"3 months ago, that's when it is," Roman blankly replied, angrily scrolling through her messages. "Oh, and there it is. From three months ago:"

Hey, babe, don't forget about my dinner meeting With Mr. Salado on the 4th because Charlie and Dane are having their sleepover that night so you're gonna need to drop them off. 

"Here, do you wanna look at it?" Roman snarled, tossing the phone on the couch. "And don't worry about the kids, because I had Demetria pick them up after school. I figured it would 'slip your mind'. I'm shocked you didn't ask me where they were."

"I know where they are," Geneva asserted as she walked back into the kitchen. "Demetria let me know you asked her to pick them up from school. It would have been nice if-"

She stopped herself from finishing the sentence and commenced to stirring her still boiling rice, which at that point had hardened and slightly burned. She sighed heavily, picking up the singed side dish dumping it into the sink. Roman walked into the kitchen, each step practically emitting the force of his contempt.

"It would have been nice if what?" He challenged, standing directly in front of Geneva, but far away enough for her to move freely. "What, were you going to say if I had told you?"

"You could have called me," Geneva chided. "If I wasn't responding to texts, you could have just called me."

"Are you serious? Did you not hear me two seconds ago?" Roman bellowed exasperatingly, immediately realizing how loud he was being. "I'm done talking to you. I have to get ready for my dinner meeting. Do I need to remind you again that I'm having a dinner meeting?"

"Get ready? You mean you haven't had it yet?", Geneva questioned as she followed Roman into their bedroom. "It's almost 10 o'clock, Roman," she snapped, looking at the wall clock. "Who eats dinner at 10 o'clock at night?"

"She asked me while reeking of onions, and leaving the damn balcony door open to let out the smell of burnt chicken and rice", Roman replied back while pulling out a black and white checker top jacket and pressed black suit pants. "Apparently, late dinners are a thing we do around here... except mine was planned."

Roman laid his outfit on the bed, neatly placing his folded grey undershirt next to a tightly rolled pair of black socks on the bedroom dresser. He then took the attire he had just pulled from the closet and began smoothing everything out, methodically plucking and pulling pieces of lint from his pants. Geneva simply stood there in the bedroom door, watching his every move as he ignored her, unfazed by her daunting glare. "Have you seen my black shoes?", he mumbled, breaking the awkward silence.

She didn't respond.

"Genny, have you seen my black suede shoes?" He asked again, this time stopping to look up at her. Once again, she remained silent.

"Oh, you're doing the silent treatment, now", He scoffed. "I got news for you: I've been getting this treatment for the better half of the year so it's nothing new to me."

He knelt down by the bed and looked under it. His almost giraffe-like neck made bending over easy, as he simply had to slightly bend at the knee and his freakishly long neck would do the rest. "You know, you could actually help me find the damn shoes instead of standing over me like an owl stalking a field mouse. I'm sorry you went to all the trouble of making dinner, but if you would actually communicate with me and stop ignoring my calls, or texts, or notes I leave you-- or, hey, how about you coming home at a reasonable time of the night so that we can catch up on life. Talk about the kids, make family plans -- hell any plans -- see each other naked and do something about it? You know, crap like that."

Geneva listened intently, showing no emotion as Roman went on and on about the state of their affairs, all while partly submerged under their bed still looking for their shoes. Suddenly, she remembered that she had left the second stove burner on that was cooking the macaroni. She immediately dashed to the kitchen, leaving Roman in the bedroom as he continued to list everything wrong with their relationship. As soon as Geneva turned the corner, she was hit with a cloud of smoke and the smell of burning pasta; she knew it was a lost cause. The water from the pot had completely evaporated, leaving nothing but frying macaroni shells. Now, the second side dish was gone, and in the oven was chicken that had been cooked an hour ago and was now dried up. 

Frustration came over her. She calmly turned the stove off, dropped the burned pot of macaroni in the sink next to equally burned rice and poured herself a glass of wine. The night was over. There, alone at the table, she listened to the sound of people outside, laughing and talking loudly, the multiple yells of "Taxi!!' coming through loud and clear. For a moment, she sat there pouring more wine and soaking in the immediate silence that she hadn't experienced in years, let alone the recent busy months. God, I miss this alone time, she thought. 

The hustle and bustle of the workforce, making and closing deals downtown at the bar. Where the hell has my life gone? From titan of the boardroom to glorified secretary. Roman wants this... the kids need that. Mom's hip went out again... why isn't Cherise putting her nothing down to go help her? Why is all this crap on me? Make this deadline, go to this recital, cook this meal, find my stinky ass shoes! I'm fucking sick of this shit! Everybody wants something but doesn't have a damn thing for me!

"I'm done!" Geneva yelled, jumping up with so much force that the chair she was sitting in almost did a perfect flip as it crashed on the floor. She took her glass of wine and threw it clear across the room, shards of glass exploding all over the wall. Making her way over to the living room, she grabbed her phone from the couch and proceeded to look for a specific number. Tears were welling in her Geneva's eyes as she furiously searched for a specific number. It was then that she heard Roman's phone beep. He had placed it on the kitchen counter with his keys when he walked into the apartment. She ignored the sound, and went back to looking through her phone. Then it beeped again. And again. Now, her curiosity was peaked. Who is texting him this late at night? She wondered. Roman was still in the bedroom, presumably still on the hunt for his shoes, so Geneva quietly walked over to his phone, peering down the hall with each step. 

"Really?" Roman yelled, causing Geneva to jolt around so fast, she thought a vertebrae in her back popped out of place. Alas, he was yelling at her from the bedroom. "So I'm talking the whole damn time and you just leave out of the room? Love your priorities, babe."

"The pot was burning", she yelled back him. "Would you rather I let us both burn to death or stand there and let you continue talking at me while looking for your ugly loafers?"

"Ugly? These are premium Corinthian leather white cobra snakeskin shoes-  leather and snakeskin."

"Explaining what they're made of doesn't make them any less ugly", Geneva mumbled.

"Whatever. I found them, in case you were wondering. I'm hopping in the shower, so you have more time to care only about yourself."

Brushing off yet more of Roman's sour attitude, Geneva waited for the him to go into the bathroom and listened for the door to close. Looking down the hall one last time, she grabbed his phone and attempted to access his it... but it was locked. This was no problem as Geneva had set his passcode for him when he first purchased the phone, but the fact that he was now using it made her suspicious. She entered the code... Passcode Invalid. 

"He changed the code? I didn't even know he could," Geneva muttered. "When did he change it?"

"Last week." 

His voice at such a close proximity startled Geneva to her core, prompting her to drop Roman's phone on the floor, all the more solidifying her sneaky intentions to her husband of almost 10 years. "What are you doing?" He sternly inquired, although he already knew the answer.

Geneva turned around to face the music. Standing before her was her husband, glistening in the dimly lit room as he held the blood red towel to his naked body with one hand and wiped his soapy face with the other. Granted, Geneva had been scared by Roman's sudden appearance, but seeing him in front of her, his toned and nude caramel complected body shielded only by a towel wrapped tightly around his muscular thighs. Geneva couldn't help herself. Even with Roman scowling at her with anger, she felt her body temperature rising the longer she stared as him, his beautiful brown pecs rising up and down with each breath.

"I heard your phone go off", she breathlessly stammered, slowly unbuttoning her blouse. "I didn't know if it was for work, so I was just making sure that--"

"Making sure that you could bring it in there to me after you read the messages?", he interjected harshly, picking up his phone from the floor. As he bent over , his towel came undone from around his waist and dropped into the hand that was grasping it. Standing upright, he had a phone in one hand, a towel in the other, and nothing between. Geneva's eyes immediately went down to past Roman's stomach, licking her lips with ecstasy as she leered perversely at her own husband's privates. "You won't answer a damn phone call I make to you, but suddenly you're so concerned about who's calling me."

Geneva began removing her clothes. "Just so you know I'm not done using the shower", Roman snapped as he wrapped the towel around his waist, "So unless you planned on going to bed dirty, you can wait until I finish"

"Or," Geneva purred, unzipping her blue knee-length skirt. "We can shower together."

Roman stared at her with bewilderment, but more with annoyance. "Genny, I don't have time for this. That could have been Salado calling me, and now thanks to you, I'm probably going to be late--"

She lunged at him, consuming his puffy crimson lips with her own as she ran her hand up and down his chest, his stomach, and then further down, cupping him in her hands. Roman's body language remained stiff to her every move. "Damn it, Geneva, stop it", he uttered in disinterest. But, her touch remained persistent as he motioned away from her... before long, his desire was undeniable as it crept from its hooded abode, trembling and twitching at Geneva's cupped grasp. 

"Genny", Roman stammered, unable to form a thought as the blood left his brain. "What are you -- What is this?"

"Has it been that long?" she laughingly cooed, slowly passing her hands down his dampened sinewy build. "I don't even care what we were fighting about. It's been so long since we've had this kind of time to ourselves. To hell with the calls, the meetings, the stress. I wa--"

And then his phone began vibrating furiously in his hand. It was as though the trembling of the device in his hand snapped him from the intoxicating trance of his longing wife. He motioned away from Geneva, collecting himself while he turned away to read his phone. Geneva looked at him, his piercing hazel brown eyes illuminating from the phone's screen as he stared intently at it. Her moment was over, and the cold brush of indifference once again enveloped her as she stood before her husband in her bra and panties. She wasn't enough... she saw it now.

"Salado's at the restaurant", she heard Roman say, his voice so faint that it was almost as if he were two miles away from her instead of mere yard. from her. "I'm just gonna change and meet him there." 

Geneva was too dejected to show anger. She picked up her clothing from living room floor and slowly proceeded to the master bedroom. Even though she could hear the shower running as she sat on the bed, the muffled sounds of Roman's voice could also be heard. Geneva deduced that he must have been talking on the phone with Mr. Salado.

As she wrapped herself in a red velvet robe, a meek tapping could be heard in the front room. Going to investigate it, she realized that it was someone knocking on the door. She assumed it was a child or an elderly person based on how light the knock was, but upon opening the door, she saw a casually dressed man in a ivory white long sleeved shirt, black slacks, and who looked to be in his early twenties with a medium build, yet otherwise unremarkable in appearance.

"Can I help you?" She asked the stranger, who appeared to be startled at her sight. 

"Um... Yes, ma'am, my name is Matt. I'm an intern at Mr. Ballard's office. This is the address he gave me. Is he in right now?", the young man requested in a squeaky diminutive voice. 

"He is, but I'm afraid he's indisposed right now", Geneva answered, pointing towards the bedroom and the sound of their shower running. "I'm Mrs. Ballard. Is this something important he needs to know now, or can I pass along a message to him?"

"No, that's alright. I'll just call him at a later time. That's what I probably should have done anyway. Sorry to bother you at this time, ma'am. Have a good night."

Geneva watched the young man scamper away, the puzzled look on her face matched by the man's eagerness to leave her presence. His reddish brown hair resembled a fireball as he rushed past the elevator and down the nearby stairwell. She closed the front door, still puzzled by the interaction that lasted no longer than a minute. She called down the hallway to Roman, who apparently was still showering as she could hear the water still running. 

"Did you just call me?" he yelled back at her, but muffled through the door. 

"Someone was at the door for you."

The shower turned off. After audible fumbling, Roman stepped out of the bathroom. His body glistening under the light as steam cascaded from his muscular frame as though his skin were literally smoking. Again, Geneva tells him that someone was at the door.

"Who was it?" He asked, seemingly becoming annoyed again.

"He said his name was Matt", she replied listlessly. "Something about work..."

"Oh, shit," He exclaimed as he ran over to his phone. Geneva stared at him as the light from his phone illuminated his face briefly before throwing his phone down on the couch and running to their room. "Why didn't you come get me?"

"Because you were in the shower," Geneva responded incredulously. "Besides, I asked him if it was important --"

"Whatever", he snapped back at her. "I'm late as it is. No point in starting this."

"'Whatever.' 'Whatever.' It's always 'whatever,'" Geneva snipped. "I'm just telling you that 'Matt' didn't leave a message and I asked him if it was important."

"And I said 'whatever'. I'll just call him back on my way to the restaurant."

"So, when did 'Matt' start at your firm?"

Roman impatiently looked up at Geneva when she asked him that question, briefly pausing from fastening his cufflinks. "Why are you taking that tone?"

"There's no tone", Geneva said, clearly with a tone. "It's just that I've met everyone at your law firm, including the interns of your partners. I've never seen this Matt guy before."

"That's because he only started a few days ago, and he's still being trained. I don't know if he's gonna be a permanent fit, so the formal introductions are off the table until his probationary period is over."

"Oh," she bemused.

Roman sighed, showing his irritation. "Now what?"

"Nothing."

"I know your 'nothings', Genny," he  exasperated. "Can you just say it now so we don't have rehash it when I get back?"

"Okay, fine", she started, "If he's so brand new and you weren't going to introduce him to anyone just yet, why does he know where you live?"

Not missing a beat, Roman responded, "Because as my intern, my address was the first thing I had him memorize. He knows that if I cannot be reached by phone, he is to come here to relay any message to me. In fact, he is to come here first before calling. Surprised he found the place so easily."

"That makes no sense," Geneva bickered. "If he's supposed to make a beeline for our place first, why even bother giving him your personal number?"

"Dedication," he asserted while wagging his left index finger in the air. "I want to know how dedicated these news school kids are to hard work and doing what is asked instead of what is easy. Of course he could call me, but I want to know if he's willing to cut across town at any hour, regardless of traffic or inconvenience, just to give me a message. The lazy ones would call if it go to be too much 'trouble.' Only a select few would drive 30 miles from the office just to tell me something minute and trivial in the grand scheme of things."

Geneva sat down and looked at Roman, both with amazement and befuddlement. 

"And clearly, he's willing to, but I missed him," Roman said as he grabbed his jacket and motioned for the door. "I'll have to call him tomorrow and get the message. That is, if he doesn't make the trek again tonight."

As he opened the door, Geneva stood up and motioned to follow him. Realizing that Roman was no longer interested in engaging her, romantically or otherwise, she asked, "So that's it?"

"Jesus Christ, woman, give it a rest," Roman replied. "I said I was sorry you went out of your way for me. Look, we'll have a family day tomorrow with the kids, and then you and me at The Rouge tomorrow night."

Sucking her teeth and sulking towards Roman who has halfway out of the door, she tepidly responded, "Sure, Roman. Whatever you say."

They exchanged a quick peck on the lips, and as quickly as he had come home, he was just as quickly out the door on his way to a late dinner.

Or so he said, Geneva thought as she walked through their quiet home. Something about the "intern's" behavior bothered her, as well as Roman's response for his appearance at their place. She kept going back to Roman saying that Matt was not to call his phone while at the same time replaying Matt saying that he would call Roman back. 

And just when she thought she was reading too much into the Matt's behavior and Roman's dismissive reply, she remembered something important: The way Matt left.

Most people that lived in their apartment building knew of the "hot hours" of elevator use, which were the hours that the elevator was being used by the college kids that filled up the first three floors of their building. That current time fell under the "hot hours" because of said college kids going clubbing, leaving for the weekend, etc., which meant that most people that lived above the third floor used the stairwell and exited using one of the side doors that led out ot the parking lot. 

Geneva had not noted what she found so bizarre about Matt's exit until she remembered the hot hours. She recalled that Matt went straight for the stairwell door and had not even attempted to use the elevator, an indication to her that he was aware that using the elevator at this time was futile.

But, Matt the intern's  awareness to the elevator's optimum times for usage indicated one thing to Geneva: This was not the first time he had been to their apartment. 


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