My plan to ingratiate Hari and you to your brother worked perfectly (for Apollo and for my woohooing appetite). I knew Apollo well, Janelle, you see. Some kids might have resented the responsibility, grown to hate or despise their younger siblings that they had to so diligently care for. But Apollo? It seemed that the second I left him alone with the two of you, you all became fast friends. He would come home from school and, immediately after doing his homework, would bound up the stairs, excited to hold you both in his arms and feed you and help you hold onto your jangling toys. He even helped the two of you learn how to walk—I was out with Gia at the time.
It had worked well for all of us for quite a while, and it only worked better once you and your brother became children.
You all became fast friends, sticking close to each other from the moment you all returned from school to the moment you all left again the next morning.
I could just go about my day however I pleased, and I knew that all three of you would be alright, because you were all constantly looking out for each other.
I was almost jealous of it. I’d never had that kind of connection with anyone, except for the three of you. And now that my pregnancy hormones were gone, I was realizing how much I missed Apollo’s face, waiting for me by the window when I came home. He had become so self-sufficient now, with the three of you all working together, and now none of you needed me. Not even a little bit.
You hardly even wanted me.
I knew that all three of you loved me, of course. But, I missed the feeling of being wanted. Rather desperately.
I don’t remember his name. Isn’t that awful, Janelle? I don’t even remember the man’s name. I remember he had beautiful eyes, behind his aged façade, and that he was passable in bed. But I don’t remember his name.
I had invited him over for dinner and some… entertainment afterwards. He was a windower, his wife long passed, and I had met him in the park. He wasn’t my usual type, but no one of my usual type was around. And, I don’t know. He had seemed so lonely. And I felt so lonely. It seemed right, in some way, at the time.
In retrospect, of course Janelle, I really I was just desperate to be wanted. He looked at me like he wanted me. Like he desired me. And it was a great feeling to have, when my children were growing up so fast, so independent.
We had a lovely conversation, I remember that much. It was a little odd, to talk to someone about their grandchildren when my own kids were still so young—when I was still so young. But I ignored the oddity in favor of the way he looked at me.
His lips were simultaneously rough and soft, like he had done his best to keep them nice but age was creeping in.
The rest of him was the same, I would find out. A nice contrast to the bush in our backyard, soft leaves, rough bark, scraping at my skin. At least the branches were hard…
The washing my hands was from the dirt, I thought, where my hands met the ground behind that bush. But once I’d scrubbed the earth from beneath my fingernails, I still felt… dirty. Wrong.
I was not yet thirty. I had no idea how old he was.
How old was he??
I felt dirty. I felt desperate and wrong, not just because of the scrapes on my knees and the small stain on my dress.
I slept like log, low to the ground and stuck in one place, crawling with ants and bugs and stained with the rain and the creeping dirt.
Even my children noticed. By the Creator, my children had noticed how low I had sunk, for a little human attention.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
Sure, it had been fun. Ish. We had had a decent time. But usually, when I stood up from my rolls in the dirt, the fun washed me clean. The euphoria of a good time left me feeling whole again. This time, I had none of that. The memory of our conversation, of his grandchildren about to go to college, wiped the fun clean away, and left me feeling like the dirt I had laid in.
I showered instead. Three times.
Then I tried to think. What was different? Why had this happened? What had made me feel so wrong?
I’d had… relations with older men before. Older even than the man from the night before. But something about him, something about it…
It just made me feel wrong.
Maybe it was because my children had noticed?
No, that wasn’t it.
I didn’t want to admit the problem. I knew the problem, but I wasn’t ready to face it. How could I acknowledge that I was no longer happy with fun? How could I acknowledge that the short-term thrill I’d be chasing for my entire adult life wasn’t cutting it anymore? How could acknowledge that I wanted something… more than that?
No. It was too much like my mother. Too much like connection, like dependence. Sure, I wanted something that was less transient. A fun that didn’t disappear into the night, that didn’t leave before morning, a fun that wasn’t so short and cheap and singular.
But the only representation of long-term fun was the fun that ended in devastation.
And that was something I could not condone, dirty feeling or not.
So I ignored the dirty feeling, and I distracted myself.
By the Creator, this guy was a blast. I hadn’t had such a good time in a while! In a long while. Maybe that was my answer. Maybe it wasn’t about short term v. long term fun at all. Maybe I’d just started settling for a good time, instead of a great time. I needed a great time.
Or… not. The moment Leo walked out the door, with promises to see me later, the fun faded. It was like the color had been sucked out of the world or something. Like the moment I wasn’t actively having a good time, it was like it had never existed.
It didn’t used to be like this. I could flirt with a man and the high from that alone would last for days. I’d be in a good mood, feel sexy and alive, for days! But it was like a drug. The law of diminishing returns was taking its toll, and now my return lasted approximately zero seconds.
What was I to do with that?
Never stop flirting, I supposed.
Maybe going for a customer wasn’t the best idea.
But then who? I’d dated nearly everyone in town. And if I hadn’t dated them, they knew I dated around! How was I to find anyone new that would be a great time?
Apollo had no clue what we were talking about. But he was a genius. Clearly, he meant that I should just go back to the people I’d had fun with already!
This was working! I was having a grand old time with Steph at the park. We were cuddling on benches, we were kissing beneath trees, it was all great!
But I dreaded the moment that I would end. I dreaded the moment that we would stop flirting, that night would fall, that I would leave and she would leave and the color would drain out of everything once more.
How did I prolong this feeling? How did I make it last?
There’s no harm in asking for help, right? Of course that’s what I meant, Stephanie!
And it worked, Janelle! You have no idea how well it worked. It don’t know if it was some kind of placebo effect, that it only worked because Stephanie said it would, but… the color didn’t leave when I left the park. Everything stayed bright and golden and happy, and that feeling of lightness stayed in my art, and all felt well with the world.
…oops. I guess I never had broken up with them, had I…
They probably wouldn’t mind. It was all in the name of fun, after all. They’d get it.