I stretched my legs out behind me and propped my face up with my hands. “Hmm.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know. I’m just not sure that Ben will ever really settle down.” Just like I would never settle down. That notion had been beaten out of us. Love’s a fairytale, our father would tell us. You think you’re going to grow up and live happily ever after? That’s a fucking myth.
Sure, I’d learned that my dad didn’t have the secrets to anything, let alone how to live happily, but he’d certainly taught us well about love by his relationship with us. We’d loved him. He’d hurt us. He was right—love was a fairytale. One I knew that Ben did not believe in. “Hope this Eric guy doesn’t get burned.”
Norma stood up and scowled. “Right now Ben isn’t in any position to burn anyone, Gwen. And I think you’re wrong. I think Ben is very much ready to settle down, and that thought spooked him. That’s what I think led to his attempt.”
I didn’t agree. Also, it was surreal to be scolded by my sister when she looked like a pin-up doll.
And here we were again on the verge of an argument. “Maybe.”
But since I was never really good at making peace, I added, “Mostly it was Dad’s upcoming release.”
“That too,” she agreed. Kudos to Norma for being the bigger person.
She disappeared into her walk-in closet. While she was gone, I kicked myself for being so combative. It wasn’t very nice in general but especially under the circumstances. Norma had dealt with an emotional issue, returned home late on a Sunday, and was up at the crack of dawn for work. I needed to show her more compassion.
Besides, I had something I wanted to tell her. It was maybe not fitting considering our conversation topics so far that morning, yet I was suddenly very eager to share. I walked over to the closet door and leaned against the frame. “I took your advice.”
“About?” Norma tucked her sleeveless black blouse into her gray suit skirt.
“I loosened up. Or I’m trying to.” Except with the way I was nervously biting my lip, I probably didn’t look very loosened.
Her face wrinkled as she tried to figure out what I was talking about. Then her eyes widened when she remembered. “You got laid?”
“You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“But I am surprised. You haven’t been interested in getting laid in years.” She was right but she didn’t have to remind me.
I rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t stop the smile that played on my lips. “I guess I probably had everyone convinced I was secretly a nun.”
“Not a nun. Your mouth is too foul.” She grabbed her suit jacket from the hanger then started out of the closet. “Walk with me while I pour my coffee. Tell me all about him.”
“He’s just a guy. And it’s only happened once. Well, twice.” I tagged behind Norma, feeling very much like the little sister who was spilling her guts about her latest crush. While I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea about JC, I couldn’t not tell her about him now. And I still wanted to tell her. Wrong impression or not.
“What’s his name?” Norma set her jacket on the counter, pulled a travel mug down from the cupboard and poured half the pot in before asking, “Want some?”
“No, thanks. I’m about ready to go to bed. And his name’s JC.” I realized as I said it that she’d probably ask me what JC stood for next. Or what his last name was. Dammit, I hadn’t really thought this through. “But that’s all. I’m not telling you anything else about him.”
“Not sure if it’s serious yet?” She leaned her backside against the sink and took a sip from her mug.
“It’s not.” Frankly, I was surprised that she would think I’d ever be serious. She knew I was anti-relationships. I’d always thought she understood that, but there were the Ben comments she made earlier and now this.
Obviously I needed to remind her of my position on the matter. “He’s not a boyfriend. He’s an…arrangement.”
“Tell me more.” Despite her skeptical frown, she seemed genuinely interested.
“We’re meeting up on Wednesday nights to spend time together.” I blushed at the thought of the last time we’d spent together.
Norma put her mug down, her eyes bright. “I’m guessing that’s code for ‘have wild monkey sex all night long?’”
She seemed like a teenager in that moment. Enthusiastic and ready for details and not my thirty-five-year-old surrogate mother.
For some reason, it embarrassed me more. “Something like that,” I said, playing the whole thing down. “That means you’ll have to watch Law and Order without me.” It was her show anyway. I was more than happy to miss it.
“Fine. I’ll DVR it for you. But I’m not done asking about JC.” God, she was practically giddy for me. “I’m all fine with sex for sex’s sake, but you don’t think that something more could happen between you?”
The idea felt like a spider crawling on my skin. I shook it off with a visible shiver. “No. Oh, no. I’m not looking for that. You know that.”
She shrugged and her tone suddenly got serious. “No one’s ever looking for it when it hits them.”
“Well, if it hits me, I’ll hit it right back. Whatever it is.” I shivered again and not just for dramatic effect. The notion was that disturbing.
“Whatever it is?” Norma’s whole demeanor seemed offended. “It’s love, Gwen. Don’t you want to fall in love?”
“What’s that?” I wasn’t harsh, but I was resolute. “No, seriously. Fall in love? There’s no falling that I know of. I love you, Norma. I love Ben. I love what I remember of Mom. In some weird obligated-by-blood way I love Dad, even. That’s about all the love I need. It’s about all I can handle too.”
“Gwen…” She looked at me with what seemed like pity. Then she sighed and I knew it was pity. “The more you love and the more you are loved, the more strength you have to handle everything else. You know that, right?”
“Eh. I’m not so sure the proportion of pain to reward works out in love’s favor.”
“Oh, honey. You’re going to end up alone with that attitude.”
“Never. I have you, sissy.” I put my arms around her waist and clutched onto her dramatically. This was easier than a real hug—it gave the pretense of being insincere, yet it was still a way to get the reassurance I craved.