Chapter 5 - Acceptance:
It was almost exactly 2 weeks after they had filed for divorce when a process server arrived at SPRQ-Point with a brown manila envelope she immediately recognised. It was plain and without any defining characteristics, but she just knew they were her divorce papers.
She had expected to feel sad when the papers were finally served, and in noting the slightly depressive mood she had been in for weeks, it was far from an unrealistic expectation. She had expected to want to curl up in a ball and die. She had expected to be as distraught as the girls in movies who stay in their pyjamas all day and cry into a comically large tub of Ben and Jerry's. She had expected to want to burn everything Charlie left behind, freeing her from his grasp.
Oddly enough, none of those things happened.
Instead, she felt the need to make up for lost time.
But she wasn't angry anymore, she didn't really resent her ex-husband. In fact, she had told him that she would pack his things for him and keep it all until such a time as he was ready to collect them. She didn't him to be under pressure to find a new place; if he was comfortable enough in the Fairmont for a couple more weeks, then she didn't mind holding onto his things.
Also, divorce negotiations had went by quicker than she had expected. She had expected him to be spiteful, to want to make the process as difficult as possible for her. He really didn't. In fact, he was uncharacteristically pleasant about the whole thing.
He gave her the house and the dogs, only wanting his own car and the shared car. He didn't really like the dogs, and he knew how much they meant to her - so even he knew that would have been just one step too far. He didn't spend much time in the house - usually traveling or sleeping with young women in hotel rooms. And why should he take her Range Rover when he much preferred his Tesla?
Whether his kindness was more about practicality than genuine decency, Joan wasn't sure. But regardless of his intentions, she was grateful to him for not allowing her to go homeless or to lose the dogs. The Range Rover was an added bonus.
So when she came to sign her name beside the x Charlie's lawyer had annotated, Joan scribbled her signature with a surprising amount of certainty.
This is what she wanted, she realised. And she knew that life really could only get better.
She just wasn't sure where to start.
She had done enough grieving for her marriage, though, and it was time to start living.
Joan was a successful woman, but she was also a loner. It was a horrible realisation, one that took her back to her high school days of avoiding the kids with the long greasy hair and massive duffel bags which they carried around for no known reason. They were loners. Joan had become one of those kids - only with better hair and a Chanel bag instead of a duffel.
This was a good place to start, and why not begin with Zoey? She seemed to be remotely interested in Joan as a person. Right?
It was the same day as Simon's engagement party when she asked Zoey out for drinks. She had told Zoey she didn't want to go to Simon's party because of all the millennial chat. In all actuality, she just didn't think it was how she wanted to spend her first night out as a single woman. Imagine, freshly divorced and going to celebrate two people who love each other, but have a 45% chance of ending up like she and Charlie? She didn't like those odds.
So she had suggested to the young woman that they grab a couple of quiet, civilised drinks. Wasn't there a nice bar at the top of the Hilton? She wanted to let loose a little, but she refused to go to some crappy bar in Sunnyvale, or God forbid, The Tenderloin. Joan looked like a prime mugging target at the best of times so really, why make it easier for people?
They'd stick to the financial district tonight - overpriced martinis and tiny food portions seemed better than the alternative.
But by the time they'd got to the bar, something in Joan snapped. Why should she have a quiet and civilised evening when Charlie sure as hell wouldn't be? He was welcome to do whatever he wanted, but she had to stop putting her life on hold for him. She had no real obligation to him anymore, and like hell was he having a quiet and civilised evening.
"Hey, can I have 2 dry martinis up with a twist and a couple of shots," she said with a level of confidence and determination she wasn't sure she possessed. Catching Zoey's face, she saw a slight smirk and the agreement that she herself would like a shot. She might have imagined it, but was Zoey... impressed with her?
It didn't take long for Joan to pass the tipsy stage where she usually would have stopped herself. She felt a pleasant warmth radiating throughout her body she hadn't felt at all when she had drowned her sorrows in LA or perhaps for a long time prior to that. She felt a little emotional, but an equally tipsy Zoey was quick to comfort her.
"Is there something wrong with me?" she cried, lowering her head to the bar. She wasn't even sure where this wave of self depreciation had come from, but she found it to be a saddening common thread throughout most situations in her life. Joan was actually okay about the divorce, she really was. But she was just a lightweight who couldn't handle spirits all that well.
"No, you are super fun," Zoey assured her with a light punch on the shoulder to get her attention.
"Nobody in the office thinks I'm fun," she whined, and had she been sober, she would have rolled her eyes at herself. As it were, she was 3 vodka shots and half a martini down and all she wanted was to feel like she could be a fun person. Charlie had made her dull and she wanted to find her spark again.
And that's how they ended up at Simon's engagement party, which neither had particularly wanted to attend but Joan had insisted because she wanted Simon and Leif and Tobin to see just how fun she really was. Zoey went along with it and only 30 minutes later, the Uber pulled up at the address in Nob Hill. Normally Joan would have remarked that she hated the house's design - it was frighteningly similar to the style of houses on her street in Bismarck. Gosh she hated it there.
By the time she'd gotten out of the car, she'd forgotten all about the house and hurried Zoey inside.
Next thing she knew, she was in her bed the following day wearing the same clothes she'd worn to the party. Light was cracking through the curtains, so she assumed it must have been at least 10 am. She had never felt so hungover. The feeling in her head most closely resembled that of someone using her brain as their own personal kick drum and her body felt heavy from alcohol-induced fatigue. She just wanted to die she felt so ill.
Then, memories hit her from the night before.
Doing shots with Zoey.
Tobin teaching her how to tie a cherry stalk with her tongue.
Leif helping her to devise The Chirp.
Zoey setting the rose wall on fire (thank god, it was hideous).
Karen from accounting.
Leif joining her at SPRQ-Point after hours to work on The Chirp.
And in spite of a budding migraine, she couldn't help but smile. Last night was a reminder than her divorce wasn't really the end of her life, it was the beginning of a potentially new and much more exciting one.
Leif was gentle with her by nature, and rough with her when she asked him to be. He might have been self-righteous and overly-ambitious, but he had a fantastic way of knowing exactly what she needed.
The first time they got together, Joan hadn't climaxed. It wasn't that she didn't find Leif attractive, or that she wasn't enjoying herself, simply that she wasn't ready for that yet. She didn't stop herself from feeling that sort of pleasure, it was more that that type of pleasure hadn't come to her in a very long time.
The first time they got together wasn't about having mind-blowing sex. Well, it might have been for Leif. For Joan, though, it was about getting past the barrier of being with the same person for 20 years and learning to be with new people again. She got incredibly lucky with Leif - for all his faults, she couldn't have imagined him ever doing anything in bed she didn't say was okay. And of course, she couldn't pretend he wasn't easy on the eye.
The second time they had sex, both had come to a climax so violent, Joan bit back tears. She had tried to stop it, grabbing onto the sheets unsure of such an intense feeling coursing through her body. Finally she just let go, her first orgasm in a long time washing over her in aggressive waves.
Once they had both finished, Joan lay down and found her body unable to move. Leif positioned himself at herself at her side, propped up on his elbow and gazing down at her while both of their bodies regained their composure. She wasn't sure how long they stayed like that before Leif pressed his lips against hers and looked into her eyes with intrigue.
"You know, I've always noticed how beautiful you are. But until now, I've never really noticed how blue your eyes are."
She fought back a grin, instead remarking, "That's straight off a Hallmark card."
Leif did smile, "Hardly. You're so beautiful and you don't even know it."
Pushing himself off of the bed, he pulled on some clothes and continued, "Now, I promised you some of my famous coffee didn't I?"
Joan had expected to be more angry when she found out her ex-lover (God, that gave her shudders) had been leaking Chirp code from the sixth floor, but strangely, she felt touched. They had already spoken about how she didn't return his romantic feelings - she had grown to care for Leif, but she was by no means in love with him. She thought Leif had understood, but if his karaoke performance was anything to go by, he was far from over her.
And she dreaded to think she had hurt him the way Charlie had hurt her.
But the entire thing with Leif had showed her it was possible to be loved and that had almost warmed her heart. She had changed a lot since her recent divorce and she had stopped being so hard on herself about it all. She realised she had more to offer than she knew. She was almost 50, but she knew that overall, her body was still in good shape and with enough makeup, she was actually pretty beautiful. She was more clever than Charlie gave her credit for. Hell, she was more clever than she gave herself credit for.
She wasn't a bad person, and in fact it had been Leif who proved to her just how great she was. She wasn't sorry she didn't love him - she had no obligation to love him and she had said from the start it was just a casual thing. Joan had been married for 20 years, and so a relationship was absolutely out of the question. It wasn't really a personal thing, Leif was great. But it was time Joan started to follow her gut. To do what was right for her was the only was she'd be able to move forward from the only man she'd ever really loved.
Standing in front of Leif on the deserted 5th floor, she saw his heart break right before her eyes as she ended their month long series of hookups. She wasn't all that big on public displays of emotion, but the way he struggled to even look at her as she spoke to him almost broke her own heart. She tried to crack a joke, but her heart just wasn't in it. She didn't love him, their relationship was immensely inappropriate and if left to go on any longer, a HR nightmare. But how could she pretend it had just been meaningless sex for her? It wasn't. It had been exactly what she'd needed.
"Thank you," she spoke quietly, the beginning of a smile pulling on the corners of her lips. Thanking him from refraining from corporate espionage, what she actually meant was; thank you for reminding me I'm not as worthless as I think I am. Thank you for showing me sex isn't just an inconvenience to me. Thank you for proving to me I am worthy of being loved, even if I can't return those feelings. Just thank you.
Leif nodded in understanding, before turning and leaving her alone on the fifth floor, surrounded by work tools and tarpaulin.
Charlie had finally sourced the screwdriver for that stupid Cartier Love bracelet he bought her all those years ago. A younger and more naive Joan had felt the gesture was incredibly beautiful and romantic - they were going to be together forever and now they had a $6,000 bracelet on top of her overpriced wedding ring to really solidify the marriage.
Truthfully it felt like a shackle to a man more interested in putting her down than in showing her the affection and appreciation she was slowly learning she deserved. And the fact she'd had to wear that stupid thing while she was having sex with Leif for all those weeks and during a more recent one night stand was humiliating. Thank God neither seemed particularly informed on the subject of luxury jewellery or she was sure they might have pointed out she was effectively still wearing her wedding ring.
Charlie had brought her the screwdriver last night and no sooner had he handed it over before she was returning it along with the bracelet. He could sell it or return it, hell, he could even give it to the new woman for all she cared. It was the last thing tying them together and finally it was over. She had watched him as she handed it over, secretly hoping for a little bit of hurt, regret, something to cross his face. Anything to tell her that she hadn't imagined the last 20 years of their marriage - there had been some good moments, right?
Charlie sighed, and for a moment, she thought he was going to speak. But as quickly as the thought had crossed her mind, he was back in the Tesla and driving off. He was gone, and Joan had her answer.
The next day at work, she caught sight of her left wrist and suddenly noticed the bareness of it without the bracelet. She felt no void, no sadness and no regret at last.
Joan finally felt free.
Joan found herself at the crummy apartment little after 9PM. It was a week after Zoey's father's funeral and Joan had felt guilty for not supporting Zoey more over the events of the past few weeks. Joan was possibly the only person out with her family who could understand what she was feeling, but Joan had kept away. She didn't really know how to help, having never really grieved for her mother in the first place.
She knocked on the door with a sigh, dreading the sight she might end up facing. She looked down at the bottle of wine in her hand, sudden doubt over whether or not it was the right choice of alcohol or not. Would vodka have been more appropriate? Tequila? Was any of this really appropriate?
The door opened tentatively, then completely and Joan was met with a smile which she couldn't help but return. The redhead's eyes were puffy and exhausted and she was adorned in a pair of sweats and a hoodie, but she was the same old Zoey she had been before Joan had flown off to Singapore. A weight lifted from her shoulders as she held up a bottle of wine.
"Want some company?"
Zoey nodded and stepped out of the way to let the older woman through. Joan ignored the apartment's decor (which she would remember to discuss with Zoey another day) and headed straight to where she assumed the kitchen was. She found herself two wine glasses amongst the mess in the kitchen and set about pouring the wine. She could feel the young coder's presence in the room and felt like kicking herself for her rudeness. Joan could only justify it to herself that she wasn't used to checking up on people or being friendly, and alcohol was the only way she really knew how to initiate such conversations.
Seeing a therapist was also on her to-do list.
"Joan," Zoey said, breaking Joan away from pouring the wine. She turned around, giving Zoey her full attention. It was then she spotted the dark circles under her eyes and the unshed tears hanging in her eyes. She noticed the younger woman's pallor and the way she swayed on her feet, the way Joan did when she wasn't eating quite right.
"Can we not talk about-"
Joan raised a hand, "We can talk about whatever you like. I'm merely the bringer of wine and a shoulder to lean on, should you want it. Now, do you have any food?"
Letting out a shaky sigh, Zoey shook her head, "I've been living exclusively off of Cheetos. I'm sorry, I know you're probably used to something a lot nicer than that but it's all I have."
"Don't be ridiculous, Zoey," she scoffed, handing her the glasses of wine. "That cake you left at my doorstep? I lived off of that for three days. If Cheetos are your poison, who am I to judge?"
She chuckled, "Alright. In the cupboard by the fridge."
They put a movie on in the background, Zoey focused on her cheesy snacks and Joan on her wine. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, Joan's eyes occasionally flickering up to the TV but mostly watching Zoey. Her nails were a little chipped and her hair matted from lack of attention from a brush, but Joan reminded herself of the state she'd been in only weeks ago, being sick on her Vivienne Westwood suit and falling asleep at her desk at work. You can't be on your A-game 100% of the time, Joan. Zoey is no different.
Joan got through it, and she'd make sure Zoey did, too.
She caught Zoey watching her with a weak smile, "You seem really happy, Joan. It's nice."
"You know what, Red? I think I'm almost happy. So thank you."
Zoey nodded, lifting up her wine glass, "You deserve it, Joan."
Clinking the side of their glasses together, Joan leaned back into the sofa and turned her attention onto the movie. For the first time, Joan didn't cringe at the young woman's attempt to make her realise she deserved happiness.
This time; she agreed.