The moment the judge struck his gavel, Sugar Wallace let out a minuscule but shaky breath she hadn’t realized she was holding in. Her eyelids fluttered shut for a few seconds and a wave of overwhelming relief washed over her. It was over. It was finally over. After a year of bitter warring in court, Sugar was finally a divorced woman—a free woman. Opening her eyes, she looked over to her lawyer, Rochelle, who made no attempt to hide her displeasure.
“We could’ve took him to the cleaners,” Rochelle stated in a harsh whisper.
“What we agreed upon is enough,” Sugar said, “and he can have all the rest.”
“A lump settlement of eighty-eight thousand dollars is nothing but pocket change for a banking investor. Eighty-eight thousand dollars for eighteen years of marriage is nothing short of insulting, especially after,” Rochelle then stopped speaking, shifting her attention from Sugar to the man who approached their table. Rochelle’s eyes narrowed with a sneer on her face.
Lance Wallace smoothly slipped his hands into the pants’ pockets of his sharp navy-blue Armani suit as he eased to a halt in front of the table, his dark brown eyes focused solely on Sugar. The charming smile at his lips sparked recognition in Sugar’s mind, her brain plucking out distant memories when his smile actually meant something to her. When his smile made her heart flood with gooey warmth and her knees buckle with weakness. That smile coaxed her into being his slave to do his every bidding for eighteen years, but now, she was free from its hypnosis. Now, she knew his smile was nothing more than a decoration on his handsome face.
“I highly suggest you take your happy self somewhere, Lance,” Rochelle hissed, “or you’ll catch these hands.”
He looked at Rochelle, his smile widening. “Come on, Roc. The battle’s over and the peace treaty’s been signed. Let’s put away the animosity and make nice.”
Rochelle rose from her seat and planted her palms onto the table, leaning in threatening. “The battle isn’t over until blood is shed and I’m not above staining my Louboutins to protect my flesh-and-blood. You best believe that.”
“Always the protective little sister. Sugar made a good choice having you in her corner,” Lance chuckled. “If she had hired more competent lawyer then I might’ve had something to actually worry about.”
A flash of angered shock at his audacity swept across Rochelle’s face.
Sugar then said calmly, “Roc, I’ll meet you in the hallway.”
Rochelle defiantly held her gaze with Lance.
“Please,” Sugar added. Rochelle sharply cut her eyes between Sugar and Lance before she clenched her jaw.
“Fine, I’ll be out in the hallway, but don’t take too long,” she agreed bitterly as she retrieved her briefcase from beside her chair. She left the courtroom shooting daggers at Lance from over her shoulder.
“Out of all your brothers and sisters, she never liked me much,” Lance then replied.
Sugar shook her head, smiling sadly as she recollected eighteen years of moments—good and bad—leading up to this one. “You gave her plenty of reasons not to.”
“I’m not the bad guy here, Shug. What we had was never going to last.”
“I would love to know when you figured out that our marriage wasn’t going to make it. Was it before you decided to cheat on me with some Instagram model that’s nearly two decades your junior or after,” Sugar asked as she cocked her head, arching an eyebrow at him. “I would love to know.”
His smile waned, a cold meanness setting onto his facial features. “After you gave me a stillborn son.”
“But that’s water under the bridge now,” he said, he gestured between them. “This is water under the bridge now. Everyone can walk away happy. After nearly a year of hashing this out in court, you finally get your money and I finally get to make an honest woman out of Mariah.”
Mariah, his twenty-one-year-old Instagram model girlfriend, was pregnant with their first child: a son. She was twenty-three weeks into her pregnancy. She had it plastered proudly all over her social media. Sometimes in her moments of weakness, Sugar explored the girl’s social media outlets to peek inside the life of the side chick her husband fucked during the final three years of their marriage. Sometimes, she closed her eyes and dreamed of a life where she was young and reckless. Twenty-one-year-old Mariah spent her youthful days globe-trotting, partying, and living life large. Sixteen years ago, a twenty-one-year-old Sugar worked three jobs to put her husband through college.
Now, there was no longer a need to understand the mechanical workings of a modern-day sidechick. She no longer had the heart to blame the girl. She couldn’t issue fault to a female her husband couldn’t keep away from. A female her husband repeatedly chose to risk their marriage over.
The fault was his and yet he would walk out of this courtroom a winner according to societal standards. Lance Wallace would walk away from this courtroom with a young pregnant beautiful fiancée, a successful career, and every possession they acquired as a couple over the course of eighteen years.
Sugar stood up from her seat. “I’m glad she makes you happy, Lance.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone out there to make you happy, but it won’t be easy. Finding love isn’t easy when you’re past your prime.”
She chuckled at his dig.
It humored her that he believed being a thirty-seven-year-old woman meant that she living past her prime and yet he was a thirty-seven-year-old trying to hold onto his youth by living recklessly and burning through his money to keep his young fiancée happy.
The double standards imposed by society sickened her. He was welcomed to have his early mid-life crisis without judgment, but if she were to seek out love at her age then she was some sort of pariah. Apparently, older men age like fine wine while older women are nothing more than wrinkling spinsters.
Luckily, she didn’t need or want romantic love from anyone.
Sugar had given enough of that type of love over the course of eighteen years and nothing good came of it.
She loved hard and suffered from it.
The man that stood before her was once the source of all her suffering, but that was no longer.
“I don’t need anyone to make me happy, Lance. This time around I’m going to make myself happy. Something I should’ve done when I was married to you, but I was too busy trying to make you happy, which according to you, I was doing a very poor job of. I denied myself happiness for you. Chalked it up as a sacrifice that I needed to make for the sake of our marriage because I thought that if I did that, I could be awarded a glimpse of that boy I fell in love when I was eighteen and decided to marry against the wishes of my family at nineteen,” Sugar stated, “but I was a fool to think that.”
“You were a fool,” he agreed. “Still are.”
Sugar moved around the table and encroached in his personal space, tilted her head up at him with a smile. “That’s the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?”
“I’d love to hear whatever little theory is rolling around in that head of yours.”
“Enlighten me, sweetheart.”
She snickered for a moment. “You seriously think a marriage between you and Mariah is going to be fruitful? You tolerate her because she’s beautiful and fertile. She tolerates you because you’ve got money. What you two have for each other isn’t love, Lance. It’s greed. Two greedy people using each other up to get a leg up,” she paused, “but I guess that’s better than being in a marriage with one greedy person. So, maybe you two deserve each other.”
Lance smirked, boldly tucking a strand of hair behind her hair before crooking a finger to stroke along her jawline. “You’ve always had an active imagination, Sugar. Always cooking up fantasies in your head. If that’s what you want to believe to compensate the fact that Mariah’s everything you’re not—that I love her more than I ever loved you—then go right ahead. Make me the villain in your story. I don’t mind.”
Sugar snatched his wrist, plucking away from her face.
“The morning after you told me you wanted a divorce, I went on her social media and looked at her pictures, posts, and tweets to understand why you were leaving me for her. I came across a tweet, her response to question about what she liked in men? You want to know what she wrote? ‘Big dicks and big dollars’. All three of us know you meet one of those two standards. You’ve definitely got something big and brown. She has no problem finding it in your pants. It’s the only reason she’s sticking around, Lance,” she said before dropping her voice into a whisper even though they were the only ones in the courtroom. “It’s your wallet. You know that thing you whip out so freely to compensate the fact that you can’t give her the other she wants. So, I guess you and I are both lacking in something.”
His eyes peered at her. She could see flames of anger flickering around in the chocolate depths of his eyes, but the strong emotion never reached his face. Lance was a seasoned professional at the art of holding back his anger, but she knew the full extent of his wrath behind closed doors.
But that was the past.
A past she needed to move on from before she became a prisoner to it. She refused to be a hostage to a never-ending cycle of remembering and reflecting a painful marriage she devoted and wasted half of her life to.
“You’ve got quite a feisty mouth on you now. The Sugar I knew wasn’t so bitter.”
She laughed briefly. “The Sugar you knew is gone, but I have you to thank for that because if you hadn’t put the needs of your ‘spare head’ over our marriage, I wouldn’t be what I am today—right here before you.”
“And what exactly are you now, Shug?”
“A free woman,” she revealed confidently as she backed away from him.
She swirled on her heels and pushed open the fenced gate of the courtroom’s barrier that separated the would-be spectators from the three-ring circus.
As she sauntered down the aisle, she said loudly, “Send Mariah my regards.”
“I hope you find some peace in your lonely life, Sugar,” he replied, always wanting the last word but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
She turned halfway to face him as she opened one of the courtroom’s double doors. “I’d rather be lonely than miserable, but I’ll give it two years before you end back up in this courtroom. Then you’ll be miserable and lonely,” she stated with a warm smile while his smirk waned from his lips. Exiting the courtroom, she greeted with the sight of an irritated Rochelle.
“What took you so long,” Rochelle demanded to know.
“We were just having a little chat,” Sugar said.
Rochelle’s eyebrows shot up. “A little chat? With the enemy?”
Sugar ignored her younger sister’s comment. “Let’s go, Roc. I’m absolutely tired. I feel like we've been here all day.”
Her sister pursed her lips together, rolling her eyes. “Fine, let’s go.”
After leaving the downtown courthouse, they went across the street to the parking garage. Taking an elevator three floors up, they eventually made it to Rochelle’s car. Once Rochelle started the ignition, her bickering began.
“I can’t believe you agreed to that divorce settlement, Shug. You could’ve kept your two cars and that vacation house in Aspen, but eighty-eight thousand dollars? What are you going to do with that,” Rochelle complained as she backed her car out of its parking space. “How are you going to support yourself with that?”
“I promise you what we agreed on is just enough, Rochelle,” Sugar assured, gazing out the window as the car made its slow descent floor by floor towards the parking garage’s exit.
Rochelle ranted, “I can’t believe that motherfucker had the nerve to imply that I was an incompetent lawyer. I have my own practice with my husband and my sister-in-law and business is banging. Plus, we have a very high rate of successful cases.”
Sugar sighed, “He was just trying to get under your skin, Roc, but what he thinks doesn’t matter. You defended me wonderfully and helped me get exactly what I wanted.”
Her sister’s face softened a tad, but her stubborn displeasure etched across her face still spoke volumes.
“So, what are you going to do with eighty-eight thousand dollars,” Rochelle questioned as she eased the car to a halt beside an electronic toll collection machine. She pulled down her sun visor to retrieve a white square ticket to insert into the machine.
“I have an idea,” Sugar admitted. “I’ve had it for years and years. Lance shot it down every single time I brought it up. He said I only wanted to do it to take my mind off the miscarriages and give myself something to do instead of being at home.”
As she paid for the parking toll, Rochelle growled, “He’s such a fucking asshole.”
Once the toll was paid, the bar gate slowly lifted and Rochelle peeled out of the parking garage without hesitation.
“Everyone is going to be pissed,” Rochelle said, shaking her head.
“They’ll live,” Sugar returned. “The settlement was my decision, so they and you need to accept that. For the first time in my life, I’m doing something for my happiness.”
Rochelle glanced over at her and sighed heavily in defeat.
“Fine,” Rochelle paused, “so tell me about this idea of yours.”
A smile curled onto Sugar’s lips. “Yeah?”
“Mm hm,” Rochelle nodded. “I need something to chase away murderous thoughts.”
Sugar laughed for a moment and rolled her eyes at her sister’s words.
“Turn here,” she directed, pointing at an approaching right corner. The car turned as instructed. Sugar then gave her sister a set of directions that sent the car cruising through the busy streets of downtown.
“Pull into that parking lot right there,” Sugar commanded, pointing to a parking lot in disrepair situated on a block corner. The parking lot housed a three-story red brick building that shared an alleyway with a sports bar.
“This is it,” Sugar presented excitedly.
Rochelle scrunched her face in confusion. “What am I looking at, Shug?”
“You’re looking at Sugar Mama, premier downtown restaurant of desserts, wines, and cocktails,” Sugar said, a wide smile on her face. “What do you think?”
Rochelle blinked at her. “You…want to open a restaurant…by yourself?”
“Yes, I want to open a restaurant. Everyone loves my desserts. I have a bachelors and masters in business, so I know what it takes to run a business. For the last eleven months, I’ve developed a sound business plan that I can take to the bank for a loan, but I wanted to bring something to the table to ensure their cooperation. Plus, Mallory is helping me with—“
Rochelle snorted a laugh. “Mallory? You have Mallory helping you? Mister Bartender who can’t hold down a job and picks up chicks at the bar counter he’s working by giving them free drinks?”
Sugar exhaled deeply through her nostrils, slightly irritated by her sister’s brush-off. “Look, Mallory might not seem like an ideal business partner, but he makes some amazing signature drinks that go well with my desserts. Plus, he spent four years at that four-star steak restaurant as a wine connoisseur.”
“Yeah before he got fired for sleeping with the owner’s daughter in the men’s restroom,” Rochelle said. “I love our little brother, but come on! Lory has no self-control or business sense to help you with anything.”
Sugar frowned. “He’s good at what he does. I’m good at what I do. We work well together. He’s helping me bring my dream to life. He wholeheartedly supports it all the while you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. So, are you going to support me or are you going to side with Lance? Are you going to tell me that Sugar Mama is a ludicrous fantasy? Which side are you on, Rochelle?”
Rochelle looked through the windshield to carefully eye the brick building that stood tall, but no doubt needed much love, sweat, blood, and work. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as if she were surrendering herself to the reality of it all.
“I’m on your side,” she said, “as long as you and Lory name a cocktail after me.”
“We’ll call it the Angry Bitch,” Sugar said teasingly.
They exchanged looks before they burst into a fit of laughter.
After the two sisters settled down, they gazed at the building.
The building was going to house her dream and nothing was going to stop her. Her heart raced in excitement at the prospect. Sugar was a free woman free to follow her dreams without protest. She, no longer, had to put her marriage before herself. She was going to pour every single penny that she had into this restaurant. All eighty-eight thousand dollars. She was going pour everything she had into this. Her blood, sweat, tears, and love. She was going to slave in her kitchen to produce the most delicious desserts. She was going to painstakingly plan and perfect every single detail.
She was ready and capable to climb this monumental responsibility to reach a sweeter promise land on the other side. Deep down, she knew she was capable of so much more than the doting housewife who walked one step behind her husband.
The only commitment she would subject herself to revolved around bringing this dream was life.
The only love she could give was this dream—this glittery promise of a better future.