To say the next few weeks were tough, was an understatement, I spent less time at the office and left Taryn to manage that aspect, so our patients didn’t feel the impact of the change. I spent my days in and out of meetings, with lawyers, investigators and tax specialists, all the while fending off mother’s constant calls. While I operated in a sort of haze, hearing words and then acting on them, mother was livid- she felt like her family was being attacked. Attempting to damage the legacy my father and grandfather had built up, and while some of it was true, I just couldn’t get past the fact that this was done to me by someone I trusted. Someone who knew me better than anyone, someone I thought I could and probably would give my life for. My anger came weeks later when I was handed a full report of Greg’s spending; exclusive car rentals, trips all over the country, payments to high-class escorts, even a trip to an exclusive five-star adult-only resort with Leelah. It was all so farcical and to make matters worse when we decided to confront him and serve him with his papers, he managed to be even more insolent than he’d ever been.
I knock on his office door, with Patrick Savant and a federal investigator by the name of Ralf Inged, I ask them to remain outside in order to reduce Greg making an outburst. The clinic had been closed early, Greg thinking nothing of this as it was done every few months to allow us to catch up on our workloads.
“Greg, do you have a minute?,” I ask, my heart in my throat. I had thought about this moment for the past couple of weeks and I hadn’t quite worked out just how I would get it all out.
“Yea…sure, only finishing up updating Janice Wilkinson’s file, can you believe she’s considering having plastic surgery? What a shame because she has a smoking body!,” he chuckled to himself, “anyways, how can I help?”
“I actually have something really serious to discuss with you,” I drop the file onto his desk as if it was on fire. “You have been embezzling money from the clinic since it’s inception. I have a list of every single unauthorized dollar you removed from our account. To be more specific, my money,” I stand back and cross my arms, my face stern.
He lets out a boisterous laugh, “Jon- this is beyond madness. You’re joking, right? First, you become self-righteous and lecture me on how to be a better father and set boundaries and now this?!”, he does air quotes when he says the word boundaries. “You are some kind of friend, honestly.” He begins to ruffle through the file I put on his desk and something changes in his face. “This is ridiculous, inconclusive and speculation at best, we clearly need a new accountant because Patrick isn’t good at his job, maybe he’s vying for a raise or something, I don’t know but this isn’t the way to do it…,” his voice cracks and trails off.
“Greg, look at me,” he refuses to meet my gaze and just like that, my anger sets in, “Who do you take me for? What have I ever done to you? I have tried to look at this from multiple angles, I even doubted you would be capable of this type of betrayal, but the fact of the matter is I have made excuses for you for far too long, you are not a friend and you have been using me. I see it all so clearly-it’s a revelation,” a flash of Greg sitting on a beach spending money that was intended for the clinic flashes across my mind and ignites my anger further. “Pack up your personal belongings and get out. Don’t touch anything that belongs to me or the clinic and be assured you will be searched on the way out.” I step forward to be sure my words are clear and well understood. “You are no longer welcomed here. Don’t call and don’t text. All of our correspondence will be facilitated through our solicitors and don’t test my words- I have never been more definitive in my life.”
I call out for Ralf to enter the office, he serves Greg his papers and gives him ten minutes to pack up his items and eventually escorts him out of the building. I make my way down to Taryn’s office and knock on the door, she had done such a lovely job of decorating it; I enjoyed coming here for a change of scenery. As I gently shut the door, she replaces a book on her immaculate bookcase.
“The deed is done?” she walks over to me arms extended.
I let out a noise, “Yup. He’s in the process of packing up and Ralf will walk him out, I didn’t want to be there for that. Besides, he was attempting to talk his way out of it and I genuinely didn’t want to be there for that either. None of this to be honest.” I run my hand through my hair and look her in the eyes, “Do you really want this? All this mess? I’m beginning to wonder if I do…”
She takes me into her arms and rocks me slowly, despite our size difference. We stand like this for what feels like a few minutes, she lets out a sigh and says, “You’re tired, overwhelmed and have been through a lot these past few weeks, it’s normal to feel defeated. I feel you,” she lets my hand go and sits on the edge of her desk, motioning for me to sit in the chair. “I don’t know if the timing is the best, but I wanted to tell you about my ex.”
“Urgh, yea…I think I’ll pass…,” I reply far too quickly. A hurt look crosses her face and I try to make up some ground, “It’s not that I don’t want to know at all…it’s just that I don’t know if I can stomach more upset, but I can see you’ve been holding back with this…so I suppose I have to listen.”
“Yes…it matters. I want you to know why we broke up and ultimately why I moved out here, it won’t be painful for you- I promise,” she lets out a sheepish smile and I nod for her to proceed.
“Ok. Bear with me…We dated for about 2-3 years, I’m not fully sure because we had broken up and gotten back together so often- it’s all a haze. After about a year, I don’t know what shifted with our relationship, he became really controlling to the point where I needed to check in with him on an hourly basis. You know, as a med student, this is near impossible to do, especially working at John’s Hopkins, but also because you really had no concept of time on any given shift. Needless to say, I got a lot of shit from him…constantly. After bearing through it for another year, I began to realise it was affecting my work and I really couldn’t cope with the strain at home, so I called it off. He then proceeded to stalk me, he was at the hospital, he was on my running trail, he was at my favourite coffee spot, he would show up at my new apartment. Constant, it was almost better to be in a relationship with him.” Taryn shudders. I reach out, kiss her hand and hold it as she continues to speak.
“Eventually, I had no choice but to file a report and get a restraining order against him, he really left me no other option. As much as I cared about him as a person or how great he was when he was happy- he was impacting my life and I wasn’t able to move on. Being in Brampford is the longest reprieve I’ve had from him, because believe it or not a year after he’d been issued a restraining order, he was still stalking- so I took matters into my own hands and moved away. Completely out of the blue. I only told my dad and Marcus. They were the only people I fully trusted with the information because let’s face it, he would never have the balls to challenge Marcus. In some ways, I hate him because he took a lot from me, my job, my sense of security and for a while my ability to trust again. I wanted to tell you, so you knew just how much being here, with you, has helped me in ways you will never know. You have made me happy again. I finally feel a part of something- with you. Rebuilding if you have it. But, you can’t allow Greg and in some respects Leelah to take the life you built up away from you. You have to fight back. It’s not easy, because it puts you in a position of vulnerability, but in some ways, you reassess the value when you fight for something. I didn’t know how lucky I was that he never physically hurt me, but that didn’t give him the right to infect my life. So, I fought back. We will fight back, Jon. We will win. And if you need ammunition, think of it this way, you were mourning the loss of your wife and daughter, yet Greg, your supposed best friend was funnelling money out of your account. That’s scumbag low.”
There she went hitting the nail on the head again, “You’re so right. It’s beyond shitty, so shitty part of me just wants to give up and let it all go. Maybe the simple life is calling me. That being said, do you mean I’ll be on your ex’s hit list? Like, should I be worried?,” I try to make light of it.
“I doubt it. Not sure how he’d pick Brampford out on a map to even begin to think I’d live here. I never really talked about my past with him, we weren’t that kind of couple.”
“You were together for 2 years and he never knew where you grew up? That’s odd.”
“Yea, like I said, we weren’t that close…,” she doesn’t finish her sentence.
She rolls her eyes, “I used him for sex. Geez.”
“Oh. I. See,” I blushed.
She takes her hair down, her curls bouncing around her face, “Too soon?”
“No, I just didn’t expect that delivery,” I get to my feet and stretch, “You think it’s safe to clear out now?”
“I sure hope so, it feels like a long week and it’s only Tuesday,” she reaches for her handbag.
“Let’s go away. Let’s go on vacation. We could use the break,” I offer.
“Sure, when are you thinking? And where? The Brownstone?” she grins up at me.
“Naa, we’ll be going there for my birthday celebration at the end of the month, plus I’d rather have you all to myself,” I plant a kiss on her neck.
Taryn giggles. “Oh, do you now?”
“Not only now. Always. How about this weekend? Somewhere hot. Hawaii.”
“You want to spontaneously go to Hawaii, this weekend? We can’t just leave the clinic.”
“Oh yes, I can and I’ll call in back up in the form of Dr Strange and we’ll go for 5 days? 7? 10? Whatever! I just want a change of scenery and something good to look forward to!,” I exclaim.
“I totally get that, but like drop all of our responsibilities?”
“Yes, all of them. Greg was enjoying and happily spending my money without batting an eye- money I never took the opportunity to actually use. So, I can thank him for waking me up. I want to enjoy it! I worked hard, I have someone I love. It’s time I enjoy the fruits of my labour. And what’s mine is yours. 2 for 1. So say yes and let me call my travel agent.”
“Well, when you put it that way! Sure you are my boss after all.”
“Ouch. What I’d like to do to you on your office desk isn’t conducive to bosses so let’s get home quickly.”
“Jesus Jon! What’s gotten into you!” she feigned outrage.
“Oh, you have no idea Dr Taryn Franklin-Dorough. No idea at all!”
I spent a full month planning the proposal, down to every last detail, I left no stone unturned and quite possibly drove Simon and Martha mad with all of my requests; checking and rechecking it all. I was so adamant it all needed to be perfect, at one point I nearly hired an event planner but thought that might be excessive. The court case against Greg was so unpleasant, I needed something to lift my mood and very seriously needed an injection of happiness and positivity- the trip to Hawaii placated that, but the engagement would give me the elation I was seeking. I wanted to start a new life with Taryn and I was so impatient for it to begin! I planned to propose on my birthday, mainly because it would throw her off the scent but also because it would explain why we needed to be at The Brownstone, I played it off as Mother’s request.
As the day approached, I became calmer, I knew she would be surprised, but most of all I knew she would say yes. I just couldn’t wait to see her face and finally see the ring on her finger. While we packed the car for our handful of days away from the stress that had become our lives, I began to daydream that we were actually going home, maybe we really should move into The Brownstone.
Our drive down to The Brownstone was smooth and uneventful, making good time, we arrive in time to have dinner with Mother, who greets us with big glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, which was greatly appreciated on both our parts. The conversation at dinner was lively, at times sombre when discussing the case against Greg, but equally happy when reminiscing about our trip to Hawaii and about having us back at The Brownstone. Mother was right, it was good to be back; it felt right.
I called it an early night and left Taryn and mother chatting away in the library, taking the rest of my second glass of wine to our room. Changing into my PJs, I make haste in getting ready for bed, opening the French doors, I step out onto the huge balcony and look up at the stars- they were slowly starting to appear in the dark sky. I make a wish, if this was to be my life now, I wasn’t going to fight it. A warm breeze bursts out through the trees as if a confirmation and I smile to myself, the Brownstone was always a homing beacon. I make my way across the balcony over to the massive outdoor day bed and lie down, within minutes I am asleep. I only awaken hours later when Taryn snuggles up to me with a thick, woolly blanket. We spend the night on the balcony, nestled and sleeping underneath the stars.
The next morning, we awake to the sun rising and the sound of the birds chirping, I felt great. It was my birthday, thirty-five felt good. At least today, after all, today was the day I was going to propose to the love of my life. I reach across and stroke Taryn’s freshly awoken face, “I really do love you, you know that?”
She smiles, “I do, but you can keep telling me. Or maybe show me?” that devilish smile.
“Well I love your eyes, your lashes, your nose, your lips and especially your neck…just down here,” as I say the areas, I plant kisses on each of them.
Taryn throws her head back and giggles uncontrollably, I take the opportunity to hike her silk night dress up and kiss all around her belly button. In one swift move, I flip her over onto her stomach and kiss the small of her back. As I make my way down her body, I make sure to plant a kiss on each of her glorious butt cheeks. As she writhes with delight, she flips herself over and cradles my body wrapping her legs around me. Pulling me in, she embraces me with a fervour I had not felt before, rushed but all the while slow, passionate but lovingly. We press and explore each other and eventually make love right there in the open, each one of us content in our release.
The rest of the afternoon was not spent as blissfully as the morning had begun, there was a lot of arranging to do and orders to give. Mother had invited some close family friends, along with Taryn’s brother Marcus and her father Philip Dorough. This would be the first time I would officially meet Phil, as he liked to be called, but I had spoken to him on the phone often enough not to be nervous. While Taryn ran errands with Mother, I took the opportunity to check out the area in the garden where I would propose. Tracing the steps, I had arranged to have rose petals and fairy lights lead her out from one of the side doors leading to the garden. A violinist would play music as she makes her way through the maze of flowers- I really couldn’t wait for the evening to begin!
I was granted my wish when 7 o’clock rolled around, I took my place in the centre of the rose garden, dressed in a brand new tuxedo with the engagement ring I’d been holding onto for the past 2 months. Mother had arranged to have her and Taryn’s hair and makeup done, thus distracting her from the day’s plan, but also making sure she would be camera ready. As Mother executes her part of the plan and guides Taryn toward the door on the East wing of The Brownstone, she begins to get suspicious when she the violinist begins playing. As she follows the trail of red and white roses and fairy lights through the shrubs, she is then greeted by Marcus around the first corner of the maze, he hands her a cluster of peonies, hugs her and sends her on her way. Around the next corner she is greeted by her best friend, Audra, whom she didn’t know would be here. Audra hands Taryn another cluster of peonies and excitedly guides her along the next stretch. The last person to greet her is Phil, who embraces her teary cheeks and hands her the very last cluster of peonies, completing the bouquet. As Taryn rounds the corner, my heart begins to race like never before. She was wearing a beautiful white two pieced lace, body-hugging dress, her hair loose and open around her face, with her beautiful curls defined-just how I loved to see her. She was crying and smiling at the same time. I await her on the bench in the centre of the rose garden, as our family’s gather around us. With the ring box in my hand, opening it I recite my proposal:
“Taryn Elizabeth, my dearest love. When I met you, I had all but given up on love; I wasn’t living. I went from day to day, performing my duties, but I was in no way living. Till the day you called my office, just your voice alone lit something inside me, you revived me. Jolted me actually. I have literally enjoyed every single day with you. You uplift me, you believe in me, you make me happy. But most of all you love me and show me how to love. Not just going through the motions, but truly, truly being in love. Quite simply, you put colour back into my life, you have become my world. It would be my absolute honour and the best birthday present if you would become my wife. Taryn, will you marry me?”
We were both crying, our audience was hushed, all was quiet except for the photographer’s camera snapping away.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me! JONATHAN!…OMG yes! Yes! A million times yes! Now let me see that ring!” she laughs.
I slip the ring, the sales associate had called bohemian, onto her finger with ease such ease- it was perfect. The 14 karat white gold ring with 30 diamonds throughout, I had based it on my mother’s own engagement ring and had her seal of approval, so I was confident Taryn would love it.
“Holy shit Jon! This ring is mine?! It’s spectacular!” she awed.
“Well my dear, so are you,” we kiss and welcome the enveloping embraces from our family- it was my best birthday yet.