“Good to meet you,” I managed, somehow. How was this possible?
He smiled down at her. “You too, man, I’ve heard about you for years.”
She’d had someone else for years and I was still standing, left at the starting gate.
I grappled to my side, finding Pippa’s warm, comforting hand again. I felt Becky’s eyes follow the movement.
Before I could stop myself the words were out: “This is my wife, Pippa.”
I felt the tiny tug of her hand in mine, the stunned jerk of her arm. And I saw Becky take this in: Pippa’s hair in a messy bun, her fuzzy orange sweater, tight ankle jeans, and sky-high bright blue heels. I saw her take in Pippa’s necklace—a complicated cascade of green and red and yellow beads—and her wide, brilliant smile.
What have I just done?
“I’m sorry—” I began, wanting to immediately backtrack. Seeing Becky, being here . . . I knew in a heartbeat that the face I used to love—and which swam in my heartbroken thoughts for years—was now only a face from my past. With startling clarity, I felt very little hurt.
No heated jealousy of her new husband.
Not even a hint of nostalgia.
But Pippa cut me off, letting go of my hand to grasp Becky’s instead. “Becky,” she said smoothly. “It’s lovely to finally meet you.”
Straightening, she looked up at me, eyes gleaming, and then slid her arm around my back, reaching down to spread her hand across my ass.
“Jensen and I are celebrating our honeymoon. How funny to run into you here!”
When I was little, Coco and Lele repeatedly watched—and sobbed over—a film about a bunch of old people in ruffled shirts or tiny running shorts who all got together after a funeral and basically sat around for a week afterward having sex with each other.
At least, that’s how The Big Chill felt to me when I was small.
All these years later, one scene in particular stuck with me—the scene where Chloe walks over to Nick, reaches out for his hand. She’s the young, odd one, the ex-girlfriend of their suicidal friend—the one none of them knew before the funeral, the one who sounds a bit daft and laughs at the wrong time—and she’s taking a chance by asking the other odd man out to come with her.
He says, “You know I don’t do anything.”
And Chloe nods, because she doesn’t care. She just wants to be with Nick, because she feels that he might understand her grief in a way others don’t.
All of this had been running through my head when I’d taken Jensen’s hand. I was thinking of Chloe, and how it was quite brave that she did this, quite noble really, to offer Nick access to his dead friend’s closet to rifle through his clothes and remember him.
In my case, and even if Jensen didn’t realize it at the time, I’d also taken his hand for support. Just outside the van, it took Hanna about two seconds to identify Becky from the back—about as long as it had taken Jensen himself—and she’d quickly told me who the woman joining our tour was. I’d taken his hand because I imagined the same scenario, years in the future, where I might run into Mark and see him happily married—again—and even then, no matter how hard it was, it would feel only a fraction as bad as how this probably felt for Jensen.
I would be the first person to admit that I rarely think things through, which is both a blessing and a curse. When asking Billy Ollander to meet me in the broom cupboard in year six, I hadn’t anticipated that he’d run out and tell his twatty little mates that I was a sloppy kisser. When blindly agreeing to a holiday with Ruby and her friends, I figured Ruby was undoubtedly being overly positive, and I would never have guessed they would end up being some of the loveliest people I would ever meet. And when I’d reached for Jensen’s hand, never in a million years did I expect him to introduce me to his ex-wife as . . . his wife.
Jensen and I watched in mutually bewildered silence as Hanna came forward and tentatively hugged Becky, and then Will took a turn. Both hugs were visibly awkward; I’d spent enough time with them in the past four days to know their hugs were normally tight and warm—not these stiff triangles formed by bodies touching at the fewest points possible.
I watched them stumble through the explanation that yes, they were married now. Yes, that’s what they meant, Will and Hanna were married. It seemed this hit Becky someplace tender, because we all watched, unsure what to do, as she teared up and pulled Hanna back in for another hug.
But beside me, it was impossible to miss the stiff lean of Jensen’s posture. I knew without having to ask that sure, it was all well and good to see this affecting Becky, to see her registering the extent to which she wasn’t a part of their lives anymore. But that was a choice she had made.
I tugged his arm, his hand still in mine.
He turned to face me, and I sensed Will and Niall struggling to not gawk at us.
“Thank you,” he whispered while Hanna and Becky talked, his eyes searching mine. “What the hell did I just do?”
I shook my head, smiling up at him. “I have no idea.”
“It’s a mess. I need to tell her the truth.”
“Why?” I asked, shrugging. “This is the first time you’ve seen her in over six years, isn’t it?”
He nodded, but began to turn to look back at them.
The misery on his face was nearly too much for me to bear. Instead of letting him turn back over to where Becky and Hanna stood speaking, I cupped his jaw and pulled him to me.