I watched her, feeling the truth of it. Feeling a tightening of my breath as I remembered Pippa saying much the same thing just last week, but saying it so much more readily, with confidence, with wisdom.
Becky had gone from living at home, to living in a dorm, to living with me. With the tendency to be a bit of a wallflower, she had never sought adventure, per se. I just never thought she craved it.
“I understand all of this in hindsight, of course,” she said quietly. “But I saw this life stretching out ahead of me, and it was content and easy, but not very interesting.” She pulled at a loose thread on her sleeve, and it unraveled a bit more than she expected, I guess, because she lifted it to her mouth, biting it off. “Then I thought of you, and this person I was married to who was ready to take the world by storm, and I knew that—at some point—one of us would absolutely lose it.”
This made me laugh, and she looked back up at me, a little relieved.
“I don’t mean actual insanity,” she added, “but I mean cheating, or midlife crisis, or something.”
“I wouldn’t have cheated on you,” I said immediately.
Her eyes softened a little. “How can you know? How long did it take you to fall out of love with me?”
I didn’t want to answer this, and my silence gave her what she needed. “Can you really tell me you’re not better off?”
“You’re not asking me to thank you?” I said, incredulous.
She quickly shook her head. “No, I just mean that I saw my own loose foundation. I saw myself breaking at some point in the future. Or maybe that was my break. But for whatever reason, I knew we weren’t forever. I knew we loved each other enough to get through the obvious, temporary stresses like career changes and having young children. But we didn’t love each other enough to get through boredom, and I worried you would be absolutely bored with me.”
I wondered if that explained Cam, whether she found him to be a simpler man than she found me. I also wondered how I should feel about that: flattered that she regarded me so highly, or troubled that she valued herself so little.
“Yeah.” Her smile, when she aimed it at me, was genuine. “We’re talking about having kids. We’ve traveled a lot since we met: England, Iceland, even Brazil.” With a little shake of her head, she added, “He has a good job. He doesn’t need me to work. He just wants me to be happy.”
Becky had never liked a lot of pressure.
And this made me wonder whether I gave the appearance of a man who needed a wife who was willing to compete with my career, making Becky feel like she could never win.
The truth was, maybe I did need that. And maybe she couldn’t have won. But how could I know?
And did it matter anymore? I was older now. I wanted someone whose presence demanded more space in my thoughts and my heart. When I thought back to how I had described Becky to Pippa, I registered how generic it all sounded.
I wasn’t whitewashing it. I just didn’t really remember much beyond it being pleasant. Because Becky was right; she hadn’t lived yet. Neither of us had.
“I guess so,” she said, taking a deep breath and then letting it out through puffed cheeks. “Though I still can’t understand why you pretended to be married to Pippa.”
“It isn’t that complicated.” I reached up, scratching my eyebrow. “When I saw you, I panicked.” Shrugging, I added, “It just came out. And almost immediately after, I realized I was fine, and that it wasn’t all that hard to be around you. But at that point, the lie felt easier. I didn’t want to embarrass you. Or me, either, really.”
She nodded, and kept nodding for a few seconds as if settling on a realization herself. “I should go.”
I stood after her and followed her to the door.
This entire conversation was both strange and totally banal.
When I opened the door for her, I realized Cam had been parked at the curb all this time. “You could have invited him in,” I said, incredulity threading through my words. “It’s been forty-five minutes he’s been sitting there.”
I collapsed on the couch, feeling a little like I’d just run a marathon.
It was early, way too early for bed, but I shut off the TV anyway and switched off the lights, and finally pulled my phone from my bag. I would set my alarm but not check emails, I told myself. I would read my book and I would go to sleep.
I wouldn’t think about Becky, or Pippa, or any of it.
A text flashed on the screen. It was from Pippa.
Gramps is an adorable loon and he wants me to take him to dinner tomorrow at 3. THREE, Jensen. By half seven I’ll be starving. Please have dinner with me at a normal, adult hour?
I stared down at the screen.
The idea of dinner with Pippa sounded good. She would make me laugh, maybe we’d even come back here, to my place. But after Becky and knowing the nightmare that waited for me tomorrow at work, I wasn’t sure I’d be good company.
To put it simply, I was tired. I just couldn’t deal—with anything right now.
This week is really nuts. Maybe next week? I typed.
I tossed my phone to the side, feeling faintly nauseated.
A half hour later, climbing into bed, I checked my phone for a response. There was none.