Assault with a deadly weapon carries a one-year minimum sentence in New York, at least according to the reputable legal advice of the Google search I complete on the taxi ride to Sam’s apartment. The question the internet can’t answer is whether a wool scarf counts as a deadly weapon.
I suppose it all comes down to motivation.
Sharp wind blowing down 8th Avenue grabs the ends of my pea coat as I exit the cab, slipping inside the dense fabric and causing my entire body to shiver. I clench my teeth and pull my wool beanie further down over my ears as I march towards the building I once considered home.
How asinine a concept home can be. At once an address, a lease, a place where your stuff is. A place where your heart is. Or at least where it was.
I scoff and flip up the collar of my jacket, increasing my pace as I approach the pre-war building, the doorman’s eyes widening with my approach. “Miss Roberts,” he stammers, hesitating a beat before deciding that his life is not worth maintaining building security protocols. “Should I call up to Mr. Griffith?”
“The building has a doorman,” he says, wrapping his arms around me from behind. “It’s basically as safe as you can get in New York.”
I chuckle. “I’m fairly certain he moonlights as the Macy’s Santa,” I reply, letting my head fall onto his shoulder. “Unlikely to scare off any predators.”
“No need,” I growl as I storm into the warmth of the lobby, its stuffy smell assaulting me with unwelcome familiarity.
I bypass the elevator entirely – too many memories, like that one night after the office party when we–
Shaking my head, I slam open the door to the emergency stairs, taking the steps two at a time and suddenly wishing I had this much energy when I used to run in Central Park on Saturday mornings, a stupid attempt to create a shared hobby.
“You’ll love running,” he says, tying my shoelaces with a wink. “A hot shower and nap after a good run is my idea of heaven.”
“We can do the hot shower and nap without the actual running,” I stand and kiss his chin, the only thing I can reach without my heels. “I promise to get your heart rate up.”
Six stories pass in a flash, and my hand instinctively reaches for my pocket before I realize I no longer have keys to the apartment in front of me. I stare at the peephole and really consider what I am doing for the first time since I opened that box this afternoon, the box currently shoved in my oversized work bag, the one still containing at least one protein bar that he had tucked in there.
“You get into the zone and forget to eat.” He slides the bar beside my laptop. “I got you the chocolate raspberry ones you like so much.”
Shoving sentimentality aside, I raise my fist and pound three times, certain I would see Mrs. Flenderson from next door stick her head out to yell about the noise.
It’s funny how a person can be the center of your universe for so long that when you no longer see them every day, you hold their image in your mind like a preserved relic, an image that may fade around the edges but never truly changes. So when Sam opens the door, jaw dropped, I actually recoil at the sight of him.
Not that he isn’t attractive. Lord, that would never be the case, no matter how much I wish he would be stricken by a sudden case of male pattern baldness or a weird birthmark that sprouts hair on the end of his nose.
His hair is longer than I remembered, as though he hasn’t bothered to make an appointment for himself after the last time I reminded him to get a trim. The light brown locks curl around his ears and collar, the silver at his temples a bit more pronounced than I remembered. He hasn’t shaved; at least a week’s worth of salt and pepper growth coats his chin. But his blue eyes are the same, the azure depths I fell in love with.
“Frankie,” he whispers, like if he said it any louder I would disappear.
I yank the box out of my bag and shove it into his chest. “You sent this to the wrong address,” I spit out, focusing my gaze on the place where his dress shirt hangs unbuttoned, his tie pulled off the moment he entered the apartment after work. Has his routine changed at all when I’m not there to greet him, looking up from my laptop with bleary eyes as he asks me about my newest clients? When he can’t flop next to me on the sofa, burying his head into my neck to ask me what I want for dinner?
His hands close around the box, looking at it like it had been dropped from an alien spacecraft, and then back to my face. “Um, you’re here.”
This, from a man who graduated top of his class at Wharton, who was predicted to be the next Big Thing in the world of corporate acquisitions. Apparently there wasn’t a class in spacial awareness in the MBA curriculum.
“Yes,” I say. “You must have ordered this a long time ago, so I wanted to return it in case you wanted your money back.”
Sam’s lashes – far too dark and thick for a man of his fair complexion – drop slowly and open again. “It’s, um.” He huffs out a breath and looks at me again, the corner of his lip pulling up the slightest bit. “You’re here.”
And to think I helped him repay his student loans.
I open my mouth to throw what I hope will be a cutting reply when I hear the pounding of a fist on the wall opposite our – Sam’s – apartment. Mrs. Flenderson. For a woman who watches Days of our Lives at full volume, she certainly has sensitive ears.
Sam looks at me with a pained expression. “Will you come in?”
Momentarily bristling at the notion of being invited into my own apartment, I nod, waiting for him to step back before I enter. It is like stepping onto a movie set for my own life, but everything is just slightly wrong. My plants no longer hang in front of the bay window, and mail piles up on the kitchen counter. The sink has a single mug instead of two, my “I became a social worker for the money and time” mug noticeably absent.
Sam closes the door behind me and I jump, turning to face him. He isn’t wearing socks. Why I notice when all six feet, two inches of him are standing in front of me, gloriously handsome in standard boring work slacks, his dress shirt rolled up on his forearms, must be reminiscent of when it was my responsibility to watch for his welfare.
“You have to wear socks,” I yelp when his toes touch my bare calves in bed, causing me to shriek in mock agony before he pulls me against his body, warming me with his touch.
“Do you want a drink or something?” Sam asks, his eyes drifting over my face as though taking inventory of what has changed in the four months since he last saw me. When I grabbed my bag and stormed out of this apartment, away from our lives together.
“I’m not staying,” I say, clutching said bag closer to my chest, as though trying to smother the sound of my skittering heartbeat and nodding towards the box I threw at him. “I wanted to give that back to you, then I’m leaving.”
Sam looks at the box in his hands and back at me, raising one eyebrow. “I didn’t make a mistake, Frankie. I meant to send this to you.”
There is too much in those sentences that doesn’t compute, that makes my brain stumble and lurch, so I focus on the one piece I could manage. “It’s Francine, and you know it.”
Sam winces. “Right, sorry. Francine Roberts, Executive Director.”
“You really didn’t have to do this,” I say, holding up the crisp business card, my name embossed in black ink.
“Of course I did.” Sam cups my cheeks and beams. “I”m so proud of you, I would take out a billboard in Times Square.”
“How is it going?” Sam asks tentatively, as though nervous I will bite his head off.
Which, of course, I immediately do. “It would be going considerably better if I didn’t have to find new employment for forty recently-released convicts after their employer was bought out without warning and fired them on the spot.”
Sam’s cheeks flush red. “That was never my intent. I know how hard you worked to get those people hired.”
“Some days I want to quit,” I say, burying my head in my hands. “These people served their time, and now the entire system wants them to suffer.”
Sam rubs my shoulders and kisses my neck. “You believe in them, Frankie. That’s what they need right now.”
“But it didn’t stop you from making that acquisition.” My lip trembles like a little kid’s and I bite it, holding on to my righteous indignation a moment longer. “You know those people – my people – would lose their jobs and you did it anyway, just to make the firm and the clients money. ”
“It’s wasn’t my call”
“Why not?” I interrupt. “Did that stop you from bragging to your buddies about your big win?”
“No,” he shoots back, his eyes blazing. “I did it–” He stops, nostrils flaring, and turns away, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
Is it terrible that more than a small part of me does want to fight with him? Because then we were at least talking, at least trying to figure out what had fallen apart?
I shake my head and huff out an exhale, stepping towards the door. “Never mind, I came to give you the scarf, and you have it, so I’m leaving.”
“It wasn’t a mistake.” I freeze with my hand on the knob and he sighs. “I found it in a shop in Washington Square last week and I wanted you to have it.”
I turn to face him, letting my body fall against the door. “Why, Sam?”
He shrugs, looking abashed. “You’re always cold, and you never have a scarf.”
“If you keep giving those away, you’ll freeze to death.” I give Sam a severe look then smile at the unhoused woman now wrapping my scarf around her neck.
“I can always get another,” I say, and he kisses my cheek.
A knot forms in my throat, and when I swallow it burns. “Why bother. I’ll just give it away, right?”
“It belongs to you,” he says, his eyes soft. “You can do whatever you want with it, but…” He worries his lower lip between his teeth. “I haven’t seen you, so I couldn’t remind you to take care of yourself. I just–” Sam looks at his bare toes for a moment before meeting my gaze again. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Until that moment, I didn’t realize that my heart had been suffocating for four months. That it had atrophied from lack of use, slowly dying without my even noticing. And that short sentence from the man I loved – love? – had jumpstarted it.
I rub my palm against my breastbone to soothe the sudden ache, dropping my gaze to the console table we bought at a flea market when I first moved in, the thirty dollar questionable antique the only contribution I could afford. Sam’s apartment keys on a leather loop were there with his Sanderson & Jax employee badge, the sight so familiar that my heart jolted.
I pause, then reach for the badge, my eyes narrowing. “What’s this?” I ask, lifting the white plastic, my thumb stroking over his picture. It’s recent; I can tell by his scruffy beard and the smile lines around his eyes. His S&J ID photo was taken when he was only twenty-six, straight out of school and full of ideals, before the reality of corporate America had stripped them away. “Better World Capital?” I look up, startled. “You left S&J?”
A smile pulls at Sam’s lips. “I did.”
Sam rubs the back of his neck, and I want to grab his hand and ask him what is making him so nervous. “Four months ago,” he says softly.
The world tilts on its axis. “I don’t understand. You quit?”
“Sort of,” he says, his eyes sparkling with the proud look that I know so well. “Well, yes, I guess so, but it was to start BWC. I had to make sure I had clients lined up and wouldn’t get in trouble with S&J’s legal department.”
I shake my head, as though I can throw off my confusion. “Did you leave because we broke up?”
Sam’s brows furrow. “No. No, Frankie, you left. That’s why we broke up.”
“I left because you threw all the work I did back in my face, hours of counseling those people, helping them start new lives—“
“They were going to get fired anyway.” Sam’s words strike me like a slap. “I found out during due diligence, but if I told you about it you would have intervened.”
“At least I could have helped them—“
“And they would have sued us both.”
I throw my arms in the air, all control lost. “That’s all that matters to you, making that deal, bringing in more money.”
Sam steps forward and I lift my chin to meet his eyes. “You would have lost your organization. They’re vicious about privacy and due diligence. If I told you, you’d have said something and lost everything you’ve worked for.”
The burning lump in my throat boils over as tears push into my eyes. “And that’s supposed to make up for all those lives that were overturned?”
Sam pinches the bridge of his nose then pulls out his phone, typing rapidly then handing it to me. “Dammit, Frankie. Better World Capital. Better World.”
“Why do you do this work, Frankie?” Sam says, rubbing my aching feet as I revise another set of paperwork, another petition that will probably be ignored.
“Because the world can be better. These people deserve a second chance,” I say. “Someone has to fight for them, and it might as well be me.”
“Sam,” I say, my voice trembling as I look at the website. “What is this?”
Better World Capital
Investing in companies that invest in the future
“It took me a while to find people who supported the idea, but once I did things moved pretty quickly,” he says, tapping the screen to show me a list of clients, the testimonials from successful placements. I scrolled past the notes on environmental initiatives, community-owned businesses, opportunities for marginalized communities. Sam points to a line of bold text.
Transitional Support: We fund start-ups that pledge to hire the formerly incarcerated and provide paths for career advancement.
”It’s early still,” he says, his voice wistful, “but investors seem to like the premise and are willing to put in capital.”
It takes me a moment to find the words, and when I do they come out garbled and rough. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I gasp, my vision blurring. “Why did you let me think the worst of you?”
Sam reaches out a hand and catches my pinky, squeezing lightly. He still holds the scarf, its wool brushing my fingers. “I always believed you could better the world. But I needed you to believe I could as well.”
I lean forward, pressing my forehead to his and letting our breath merge. “I believe in you,” I whisper, realizing I did the whole time. But I was too stubborn to admit it.
Sam brushes a tear from my cheekbone with his thumb, then lifts the scarf and loops it around my neck, draping the ends around his shoulders. “Frankie.” His voice rumbles from deep in his chest. “Will you come home?”
I can’t speak, only nodding as I brush a kiss across his lips.
He laughs breathlessly and kisses me again. “I hoped you’d come around.”