Sofia got to the office just before lunch. When she walked through the door, she saw Ben sitting at his desk, engrossed in his whatever he was working on. He looked so happy. It broke her heart.
When Ben saw her walking in, he lit up like a Christmas Tree. Another arrow straight through her heart. It nearly destroyed her resolve. Her heart was beating out of her chest, but she managed to return his smile with a forced one of her own.
Ben jumped up to kiss her and she gave him her cheek. “I didn’t expect you until after lunch.” He sounded so happy to see her. She was dying inside. Then, he noticed her somber mood. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Sofia bit her lip to calm herself before addressing Ben’s statement, ignoring his question. “I thought we could go out for a bite to eat. I brought us a picnic lunch. We need to talk…privately.”
Ben’s smile faded and it crushed her. “I thought your doubts were laid to rest. Sofia, I don’t know what else to say or do.”
“No,” she said trying to keep the sadness out of her voice. “I believe you. It’s something else. Are you ready?”
“Sure. Let’s go to the Park. We will have some privacy there,” said Ben, sounding resigned.
He let Leroy know they were leaving and two of them left.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When they arrived at the Park, they headed inside the community building. On the walk through the park, Ben noticed things that had been done. It was closer than he thought to being finished, but he was too upset to even think about that. Sofia hadn’t said a word to him on the two minute drive to the other side of the subdivision.
Ben’s mind was working overtime. He loved Sofia and he was sure she felt the same. He figured he probably rushed her too much and had overwhelmed her. He would give her whatever space she needed. They sat down at one of the tables in the banquet room and Sofia placed the lunches in front of them without a word. He couldn’t take the silence any longer. “What’s wrong Pia. You look so sad. If you need more time, it’s okay. We can slow down.”
She looked like she was going to cry. “I spoke to Nick this morning.”
Ben felt the stress drain from his body and he could breathe again. She was upset about Nick’s reaction. “Ohhh. I take it he wasn’t happy. I will talk to him. Reassure him that I would never hurt you. He will come around.”
“He said you have a grow room,” said Sofia, her tone flat.
She just knocked the breath out of him as assuredly as if she had punched him in the stomach. Ben couldn’t look at Sofia. Fuck fuck fuck. He should have known Nick would tell her. Ben knew he would eventually have had to tell her, but he wanted to wait for the right time. And the day after he had finally told her how he felt wasn’t it.
“So it’s true. He wasn’t making it up just to steer me away from you.”
She had worried about disappointing him. He had just disappointed her in the worst possible way. She may never forgive him. He was sick. “I can explain.”
He jumped when she interrupted him angrily. “No! You can’t. I don’t want reasons or explanations or rationalizations. I want no part of it. If you don’t get rid of it, I’m going to your parents so they can take Cole away from you. As long as that’s there, he is in danger. It’s for his protection.”
Ben’s heart was hammering in his chest. Cole was his reason for living and then he found Sofia. His life looked like it could finally be normal and now it was all messed up. He was panicking. He would die without them. He desperately needed her to hear him out. He looked back down at her, “You don’t understand. I tried to stop. But I couldn’t…”
Sofia stopped him again. “You didn’t hear me. No. Excuses. You said you would never hurt me. Well you just did. Lying by omission is still a lie. When were you going to tell me? Or were you just going to wait until Cole got into your supplies and wound up in the ER? No. We are done unless this gets fixed – pronto.”
“No Sofia,” whispered Ben, trying to control his breathing, “I love you. And Cole.” He stopped and swallowed trying to find the words to make her listen. “He is my world. You don’t know what you are asking me to do.” He was begging and very near tears.
When she spoke, Ben could hear the pain in her voice, no longer angry, just sad. “Fix it or forget about me and Cole. Ben, I won’t allow that sweet child to live under those conditions.” Sofia paused before struggling to continue. “He needs to form a bond with someone else before he’s old enough to really understand your loss. If you got arrested or worse, wound up dead, it would destroy him. And me.” Her voice hitched on the last words. “One week Ben. I’m sorry.”
Ben couldn’t believe what was happening. His world was being torn apart. He felt his chest tighten so much he could barely breathe. It felt like Grace all over again. She was giving him an ultimatum. Her and Cole or the weed. He was terrified. He could feel the barrel of the gun in his side like it was yesterday. He remembered the feeling of helplessness when they lured Cole away with the dog, his trashed apartment. He didn’t know how he could stop. Sofia was taking everything he loved away. He couldn’t lose them. “I need more time. It’s complicated and dangerous,” he said on a whisper.
“My point exactly,” she said. Incredible sadness coated every word and ripped his heart open.
This was going to happen and he couldn’t stop it. “Please” he begged, “let me tell my parents. I need to be the one to tell them.” He put his head down on the table and began to openly weep as the realization hit home that the day he knew in his heart would come was finally here. He was going to have to face the consequences of his actions. “Oh God, I am going to lose everything and everyone. They will take Cole from me.”
Sofia was fighting back tears. “Ben, don’t you understand?” she said, her voice no longer sad, but soft and loving, “I’m doing this because I love you and Cole.” She reached across the table to take his hand before continuing. “And I want a life with you more than anything. But not under these circumstances. If you go to your parents, maybe they can help. You can go to the police. Leroy knows lots of people in town. I’m sure together, they can figure this out.”
She was being comforting in spite of how much of a fuck up he was. He started to breathe again. “You still love me?”
She gave him a ghost of a smile. “I do. Do you want me to go with you to talk to your parents?”
For the first time since they sat down Ben became hopeful that he hadn’t lost Sofia. He sniffed and wiped his face with his hands trying to calm down. “You would do that?”
“I love you,” she said. She stopped and swallowed hard before she could speak again, the sadness back in her voice. “But I can’t be with you as long as you are growing weed in your house and selling to dealers. If you want me to go with you, of course I will. But Ben, it has to happen tonight.”
Ben closed his eyes as more tears threatened to escape. “I am terrified. But I’m not sure who I’m more afraid of. The dealers, you, my folks or the cops.”
Sofia huffed. “You don’t have to be afraid of me Ben, or your parents. As long as you do what’s right, I will be here for you and for Cole.”
Ben looked away. “I don’t deserve you. You are perfect and I am a fuckup.”
“Look at me Ben. No, you aren’t. Please, don’t ever say that again. I am not perfect either. You were there for me when I made some really bad decisions. You helped me heal. You stayed by my side and quietly loved me without expecting anything in return. You didn’t push me. And last night, you showed me what making love was. We didn’t have sex, you made love to me and it was beautiful. I never thought I would want to be with a man again and you changed that. No Ben, you aren’t a fuckup.”
Sofia took a deep breath and continued, “Look, I don’t know how you managed to get into the weed growing business, but I think I helped you out that Christmas when you asked me about your ‘project’. So I suspect it’s been going on awhile. But, it’s time to stop.”
Ben was overwhelmed at her selflessness and determination to protect Cole. Something he rationalized he was doing. But he was wrong. He needed to explain. “It started as a joke almost…”
“Ben…I don’t care how. Let’s just end it – tonight.”
Ben swallowed hard to get control of his emotions. “Dad’s in Twinbrook, he may not be able to get here tonight. I have to make a delivery tonight anyway. Let me see if Dad can be here tomorrow. That will give us a couple of weeks to figure out a plan.”