In the aftermath of Leo’s untimely discovery, he’d left. Left. Just like that. He needed to consider whether he could be with someone dishonest, he’d said. Who said I want to be with you? I wanted to say, but I knew that wouldn’t help. And I think he’d know that that was a lie too.
I was convinced he wouldn’t be back.
I made myself busy, distracted myself. For some reason, my normal pursuits and distractions weren’t effective. I stayed away from the store for days, I didn’t ask anybody out. Instead, I flitted around the house, cleaning and repairing things, cooking for my children, hovering outside their conversations and soaking up their youthful energy.
You were great children, Janelle. So happy—or, at least, it seemed so to me. That means I had done something right, doesn’t it? I wasn’t a complete screw up?
I could clean things. That was something I didn’t mess up. But that’s a horrid marker of success, isn’t it…
I was floundering, Janelle. I don’t know if you noticed, back when you were a child. I tried to hide it from you as best I could, tried to keep a smile on my face and kind words turned towards you kids. That’s the only way I knew how to get through it all. But I wasn’t getting through it, not really, and I worried that that was coming through.
I hope it didn’t affect you too much. Or, at least, that it didn’t affect you too negatively. That’s all a parent can hope for, really—that they affect their children more positively than they do negatively, that the scale tips towards the good. I think I accomplished that in you.
Luckily, my floundering did not last overlong. I’m sure that, if something had not changed, I would have fallen into the black hole of my downward spiral and never climbed out again. I was resilient, but only to a point, and for some reason this was breaking me.
But we never had to see how far I would fall. He came to visit.
I was with you kids at the time, playing some game, when he knocked on the door. I didn’t hear him. I don’t know why he didn’t just leave—he probably thought I was hiding from him, not the most impressive thing for a woman to do—but I consider it a gift from fate. He didn’t leave. Instead, he wandered around the property—maybe looking for me? I flatter myself—eventually finding himself in the family crypt.
I spied him from the window, when I turned to do the dishes from our afternoon meal. He was just standing there, in the middle from the crypt. Maybe it was just because I was far away, but he appeared completely still, almost like he had been turned to the same stone as the headstones that surrounded him.
What was he thinking? What was he even doing here?
He looked startled, but smiled when he saw me.
What, you think I was being defensive? Nooooo, of course not. I handle it perfectly well when I feel threatened or down on myself…
Why did he want to talk about my mother?
I stared at him for a while, flabbergasted.
He was so patient, refusing to rise to my bait. It was infuriating, and exhausting, and my brain was spinning in circles of alternating anger and defeat. I settled on the latter. And I told him what he wanted to know.
What did he want to hear? That I barely survived? That I hid from adults, that I trusted no one, that I avoided attachment like the plague because I didn’t want to end up like my mother? Why would anyone want to hear that? That was sad, that was dark, that was baggage. It wasn’t fun. It was the opposite.
But I told him all of it anyway.
And for some reason, he smiled.
And for some reason, I felt lighter.
He didn’t even question if it was his. He just knelt down, and stared at my belly intently, and rested his hands above where his child lay. Creator, was this man perfect? I didn’t deserve him. I didn’t. I knew that now. I had always known it, I guess, he just forced me to acknowledge it aloud.
I was open to them. No more cheating. No more duplicity. I was to tell my partners what I’d done, and let them decide if they hated me or not. Any future relationship would be engaged in with full disclosure—they were to know that I was dating other people, that exclusivity was not in the cards.
Crazy chemistry, Janelle. I swear. Crazy chemistry.
This time, when we finished, the glow didn’t fade. I laid there and basked in it, Leo by my side.
No, Janelle, he wasn’t my soulmate. Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said? He was fun, and we got along, and he understood my hang ups. But I still wasn’t down with that whole “love and attachment” thing. I wanted fun, lots of fun. And he’d revealed, I think, the way to ensure that that happened—honesty. Novel concept for me, really; hiding was in my nature. Secrecy was the way I’d had to raise myself.
So no, he wasn’t my soulmate. But he understood. And he was there. That was enough.