Kissing the Messenger

Danny Morton and I became best friends on the first day of kindergarten. We were both 5 years old. Even then, I knew we’d be friends for a long time because when I stumbled up the bus steps, he didn’t laugh like everyone else, including the driver. He simply held out a little hand with long fingers, helped me up, and then made room for me on the green vinyl seat next to him. He was kind, gentle, and sweet. He never lied or tried to hurt me. So, why was Danny doing this to me today when the pile of files on my desk weighed more than I did, and I had a colossal amicus brief due at the end of the week? I am the chosen amicus curiae in a fraud case before New York State appellate court. I sighed to cover the fear I felt. Not anger. Fear. A shiver ran down my spine when all my spine should feel was the steel of my resolve to win this case.

Danny and I are now thirty-five, we’ve gone through public school, college, and law school together, and now we work for the same law firm. We joked that we were now in the twelfth year of twentieth grade. Our firm is one of the big eight in New York City. Currently, Danny was standing in the doorway of my office at eight am, telling me something I was utterly unprepared to hear.

“Danny! How on Earth could you say that to me? You know tomorrow is our seventh wedding anniversary!”

“How could I forget? I stood up for you, didn’t I?” I had no siblings, so he had been my Man of Honor.

“Zig,” he said. He called me “Zig,” no one else on this planet or any other would be able to get away with that. My name is Zoey, but when we were seven, he decided if I married the comic character Ziggy, I could be Mrs. Zoey Ziggy, so Zig had stuck. No matter that I was Mrs. Zoey Maher. “I saw him with my own eyes. I took pictures."

Danny tossed me his cell phone. One of those giant new Galaxy Fold things. I caught it—barely—with both hands. I am uncoordinated on the best of days. But, of course, I knew the password. My birthday. A mere ten days after his, he decided he could remember that as a password. He used it for everything. Good thing I loved him; I could have robbed him blind.

I punched the photo gallery app open rather savagely, and there was the evidence. My husband canoodling with a young blonde paralegal from his law firm. Marci? Debbi? I couldn’t recall. I just remember she had a cutesy name that ended in an “i” that she dotted with a heart. An actual adult who dotted her letters with hearts. The philanderer’s firm was a mere six blocks from where I worked on Park Avenue, the bar the pictures were taken squarely between the two towering office buildings. A haunt for many of the partners, but the younger legal eagles flocked downtown to the more trendy spots. The seven-year itch seemed to have infected my husband. Maybe he should have married a dermatologist and not another lawyer.

I guess my wayward spouse, older than me by a decade, assumed I’d never cross the threshold of the Bull & Gate, and he was right. However, Danny had met with one of the partners of our firm there yesterday evening on a case he was second-chairing. When he excused himself to use the restroom, he’d seen my husband, Marc, in a tucked away booth with his hands and mouth on the paralegal. He couldn’t even pick another attorney? I thought with some weird combination of hysteria, anger, and snobbery.

I focused. My overriding emotion was still fear. What was I afraid of? I tried to do as my therapist had advised me when confronted with towering emotions that threatened to overwhelm me: try to break the feelings into manageable parts and understand the why. I guess my most basic fear was being alone for the rest of my life.

“Danny, I can’t stop to be angry and afraid right now. I have to finish this….” I gestured helplessly around my desk and the small conference table piled high with folders, open books, legal pads, and other research. “Couldn’t you have waited to tell me until later this week, after this brief is filed and out of my hair?” Anger colored my voice and my cheeks. So rare when I dealt with Danny Morton.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” the cliché dropped from his lips before he could stop it. He held up his hands in the widely accepted surrender gesture. “But I thought you should know as soon as I saw you. I didn’t want to text or call last night. I thought I should be standing in front of you.”

“I appreciate that, I do. I just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with Marc’s infidelity and my feelings about it and to do my job at the moment.”

“Can I help you in some way?”

“Fraud isn’t your area is it?” I said with a wry grin. We both knew that his specialty was criminal law; we’d finally diverged on something after twenty years of friendship when I went one way and he another in our chosen field.

“I meant personally.”

I thought for a moment. Maybe I could run out at lunch, pack a bag and impose on Danny for a few nights. He had a lovely guest room. It was filled with books, art, and silk flowers in soothing colors.

“Yes, could I stay with you for a few nights? I have to sort this out, and I can’t do it while Marc and I are in the same place.”

“Of course. My guest room is always waiting for you.”

“Do you ever let anyone else stay in it?” I raised an eyebrow with my question.


Danny is a fastidious creature. He doesn’t like the way most people do most things. He tolerates the piles in my office, but the tolerance only lasts until my brief is filed. Or my case is won. Then he comes in like a whirlwind, straightening, refiling, and putting books back in their spots on my shelves or in the law library that the firm maintains. I use LexisNexis for some research, but actual paper; something about the books still pleases my senses. So I have my own personal cleaning service as well as the one the firm employs. Actually, I’m rather grateful. I’d be embarrassed if some of our night cleaners found days-old salads and pizza crusts under the piles of books and papers. Danny not only ignores my many faults and foibles but also accepts them with grace and understanding.

I stood and stretched. I’ve been sitting at my desk for two hours now without moving. Up at five, Peloton workout complete, showered, and in the office by 6:15. I picked up my coffee and moved to the microwave I kept on the credenza. As I reheated my tepid coffee, I contemplated my options. Danny moved from my doorway to my guest chair…after he moved a pile of files and books with those long-fingered hands that had helped me up, helped me out, and saved me from accidents many times over the years. He tsked and shook his head at me but remained silent. He was so tolerant of my many faults.

“Zig,” he whispered to my back as I stared at my view of New York City. Even junior associates at our firm had beautiful views, so as a senior associate, mine was pretty spectacular. I didn’t respond. I wasn’t a person given to dramatic emotional scenes. I didn’t cry at Hallmark holiday commercials or sad movies. I felt things but kept my feelings inside. It worked to my advantage in the courtroom when I had the rare occasion to testify, act as an expert witness, or do my job as an attorney in a typical case. Right now, my facade crumbled because Danny saw through me immediately, and my shoulders sagged and began to shake as tears fell onto the credenza’s marble top. I swiped at them mercilessly.

I slid bonelessly to the floor, and Danny slammed the door shut and locked it before he jumped to my side. He sat beside me with a box of tissues and let me cry. He let me hit him on the chest as I mumbled and cursed incoherently. Taking it all out on him, the poor messenger, my feelings of anger, failure, and sadness. Already imagining the exhausting judgment of my mother, the soul-wrecking sympathy of friends, and then the obsequiousness of the rest of society. Facing the world as a failure. A divorcée. There was no question that we would be divorcing. Infidelity was not something I could forgive. I certainly had more self-esteem than that. Plus, Danny would kill me if I forgave this act of unfaithful duplicity. That’s the thing between Danny and me. We were scrupulously honest. There were no lies, no hiding between us. I dried my tears, and my eyes met his. His were filled not with sympathy but anger. At last, his affection for me won out, and the anger slowly drifted out of the blue of his eyes to be replaced by tenderness.

“Back to square one,” I chirped with courage I did not feel. “We can hit the bars and the singles scene again! Just like we did in college. Although you might have to teach me about dating apps and such.” Thinking back over the years, Danny hadn’t had a serious relationship that lasted more than a few months at a time. I wondered over that for a brief moment.

Danny’s face took on a scowl, “No, Zig, we will definitely not be doing that. Never again.”

“Why not? It’ll be just like Marc never existed.” I figured David Little, one of our firm’s partners who handled divorce, would handle mine. He would make it, so it seemed like Marc Maher never existed in my life, except for a monthly alimony check. Marc earned far more than I did at the moment. David Little was particularly ruthless when it came to infidelity. I made a mental note to call him later.

“Because, Zig, I don’t want to date. I don’t want to go to bars anymore. I’m too damn old.”

“How will we ever meet anyone, then?” I asked him naïvely.

“We won’t.” I must have been particularly dense at that moment. Because, as we sat on the floor of my office, with our backs against the credenza, he lifted my hand and brought it to his lips. “I never want to date anyone who isn’t you ever again, Zoey.” He shocked me as much by the use of my first name as by the content of what he said. It took me a few moments to fully understand what he was saying.

I swallowed with difficulty, and I turned to face him. “You’re saying….”

“I’m saying I’m done pretending that I haven’t been in love with you for the last twenty of the thirty years we’ve known each other. That I haven’t wanted you for myself and that I wanted to dispatch every man that you dated. Now Marc… Marc, I want to send to hell where he can be tortured for eternity. Not only because you married him, but because he has tossed away the funniest, sweetest, klutziest, smartest, most beautiful woman in the world.”

I just stared at him. My eyes filled with tears again; this time, they weren’t angry or hurt tears; they were bittersweet. Of course, I’d had the same feelings for him over the years, but I never allowed it to go very far in my mind. We were friends. Best friends. Each other’s shelter from the storms of life. Of which there had been many. Storms, I mean. This was a totally different type of storm winding its way around my brain, heart, and stomach. He raised his hand to the back of my neck and pulled me close to him. His forehead touched mine. Again, I swallowed reflexively and with difficulty. I couldn’t focus on anything except the sound of his breath becoming more shallow and rapid. Finally, his lips touched mine, and those long, strong fingers wound tightly into my reddish blonde curls.

“You will never be alone again,” he whispered against my mouth. I felt him smile. I returned his kiss then, with all the love I’d always had for him, but with something new too. Hope.

I guess I wouldn’t shoot the messenger today.