The scene opens with a grim-faced, almost ill-looking James and an anxious, nervous and worried Florida, back in the Evans apartment. James grappled with the words, but finally told her, as he asked her to sit down, and she did, on the couch, as James paced.
"Baby, I wouldn't ever mean to hurt you. Not for all the money in the world, not for nothin'. I hope you know that."
Florida began to wring her hands and nod some, a twitch of her lip and chin. "Go on, honey."
James took the lawyer's card out of his coat pocket and handed it to Florida, puzzled. "I don't understand," she asked, as she looked over the card...and she blinked again. "Specializing in family law..James, are we in trouble?"
It occurred to Florida for a split second that maybe James was going to ask her for a divorce?! But when she looked again at the card, by its raised print, elegant font and expensive card stock, that this wouldn't be a lawyer she or James could ever afford, not for a million years. Now she was more confused than ever.
James swallowed, and a tremble ripped through his shoulder, as well as the beginnings of a dry heave. "Look, Florida..there ain't no way to say it that won't hurt you. I've got somebody looking for me, for money."
Florida almost got indignant. "Money! From us?! Oh, James, that's impossible! We ain't got no money..." she turned the card over again in her hand and looked at it. Specializing in family law, she reread. And slowly, it began to dawn on her. Someone looking for -him-. He'd never meant to hurt -her-.
As if in slow-motion, her burning eyes began to rise to meet his, her jaw taut, teeth clenched and nostrils flared, but she kept her voice and movements under control. "You strayed outside our marriage," she said, factually and evenly.
James' knees began to buckle. "It ain't like that, Florida. I swear to God."
She repeated herself. "You strayed outside our marriage. You made love to another woman, and there's a child involved, am I right?" Her voice was like stone, and tears began to prick at the corners of her eyes.
"It wasn't love, baby. I don't hardly even remember it. But it wasn't love. I only love, I've only ever loved, you, Florida. You have to believe me. I didn't ever mean this. This is a mess, baby. I'll make it right, I don't know how, but somehow." He went to take her hand, but she snatched it away.
"Well, James," she said, her voice an odd pitch, straining. "Now that you've made a fool of me...I need some time to think. I love you, but this...let's just say that if you never tried to hurt me, I'd be afraid to think of what it would be like if you DID try."
James flinched, averted his eyes and Florida stormed off to their bedroom, slamming the door hard.
James sat on the couch, head in his hands. His children began to return from school, going through their normal bickering after the perfunctory "Hi, Daddy"...and when all three were home, and the interfighting reached its crescendo, James shouted "ENOUGH!"
The children, stunned into silence, looked at him a moment. Only then were the sounds of Florida's near-hysterical crying audible from behind the door. The sound wounded James, and he grabbed his hat, walking out, needing to get away again.
Thelma was the first to come to action, and ran to her parents' bedroom. "Ma?" knocking loud enough to be heard. "Ma, are you okay? Can I come in?"
"I'm fine," Florida lied, "and no you ain't comin' in. Just let me be. I don't feel so good."
"Ma.." JJ now beside his sister and eyes wide. They'd never heard their mother like this. "Please, can we do somethin'?"
"Junior, please, just let me be. Take Michael down to the basketball court if you want..take your sister too. I just need to be by myself."
Michael looked from his brother to his sister, nervous, as he pulled his green jacket back on and grabbed his basketball. They did as Florida asked, and vacated the apartment for a while.
Florida got a hold of herself, drying her eyes after the last tear was shed, and after washing her face, looking at her reflection in the mirror, resolved that this would be taken care of, somehow. She offered it up to God.
She also decided that she wasn't going to allow James' error of his ways to dictate her emotions anymore. Yet, she also knew that if she didn't do something, anything, that this lawyer could be taking some of the money her family needed away. She dressed efficiently, putting on a little lipstick and picking up the business card, went to the bus stop to wait for a ride there.
The bus had just pulled away, she saw it leaving as she approached the stop. Wanda, a neighbor from the floor below, was sitting there, waiting for a different transfer.
"Afternoon Florida," Wanda smiled, patting the seat beside her on the bench, and Florida accepted. "Afternoon," Florida offered in return.
"That's odd," Wanda said, out loud, although it was clear she'd been thinking. "Florida, why ain't James waited with you? Well, men. Always in a hurry. Ain't gave you time to fix yourself up and so he left you up there to dress and prob'ly told you he'd meet you wherever it is you two are goin'." Wanda said, thinking as she talked, creating the story of the Evans that made most sense to her. "He just left on that bus," pointing in the direction of the last one that pulled out.
That wasn't the route James took to work. They had no bills to pay along that route..Was James doing what Florida was, and going to see that attorney?! Her heart skipped a beat...Dear God, detain him a little..I want us to face this together. Although I'm angry with him, I do still love him and am not about to throw away almost 20 years of my life on one mistake the man's made. We'll get past this. I don't know how, but we will."
"Oh yes," Florida fibbed. "He needed a head start, but he'll wait for me," she said, hoping that if she believed that hard enough, it would happen.
About 15 minutes passed, and the next bus headed further into the Downtowns arrived. They boarded and Florida chatted, small talk, in the shared seat with Wanda. "Well, this is my stop," Wanda said eventually, leaving Florida on the bus. Florida was glad of that; she didn't want to explain where she was going or what she was doing, and didn't want to tell any more lies. Two stops later, Florida departed the bus, about a half-block from the address on that card in her pocket.
She walked briskly, and looked up at the skyscraper when she reached it. Taking a breath to steel herself, she entered.
Well, these elevators ain't like the project, she mused, as she entered, a uniformed elevator operator asking her what floor. "20, please," she said in almost a whisper, as a bunch of people in expensive attire began to file in around her. Mostly white. Lord, please don't let me make a fool of myself, she said silently, as she waited and prayed during the ride.
"20th floor, Ma'am," the operator said, and held the "open door" button for her. "Thank you, Sir," she said and looked about. The signage on the wall indicated the office in question, and she followed.
As she entered the office, she saw James in the waiting area as well, and silently took a seat beside him. His eyes widened, and he nodded some, but didn't dare risk her wrath any further..he'd done enough to harm her, he reckoned.
He was shocked and almost brought to tears when she laid her hand upon his.
Finally, a receptionist called, "Mr. Evans, Mr. Schwartz will see you now."
The Evans got up together, and walked into the lawyer's private office.
(To be continued..and feedback most certainly welcome. :)