It’s at that moment, of course, that the smile drops off Jessica’s face. I watch her take in a deep, steadying breath.
Don’t ruin it, I find myself thinking. Not now.
“There’s…something we need to talk about,” she says, and I freeze, not expecting that. “Something I should have told you…three years ago.”
I stare at her, lost for words. I can hear what she’s saying, but I don’t comprehend it. Is she really thinking about saying what I think she is?
“Is this about…” My voice falters, and I try again. “Are you going to tell me why…why you left?”
Her hands clench on her knees and she looks away. But she gives me the barest nod in response.
I haven’t asked for an explanation since Saturday. I’ve been resigned to the fact that I’ll probably never get an actual explanation off Jessica. I convinced myself that I didn’t want to hear it. Even yesterday, when I threw it back in her face that we could never have a relationship while she was still deadest on keeping her secrets, I didn’t tell her I wanted to know.
A thought occurs to me and I narrow my eyes.
“Is this because I told you we can’t be together while you won’t tell me the truth?” I ask, my voice low but angry.”
“No,” she denies instantly. “I’m not telling you this in the hopes that we’ll get back together. I think you were right, that jumping into a relationship after everything that happened would be stupid. But you’re also right in that you deserve to know how it all happened. I should have told you at the time…but I didn’t. If I’d just talked to you…”
She shakes her head, frustrated. It’s surprising that she’s upset by the very same thing that has played on my mind these last few years. I’m upset that she didn’t at least talk to me before she left. Apparently, she’s also upset that she didn’t say anything.
I open my mouth, then close it. What am I going to say to her? “It’s okay”? Because it’s really not okay, not at all. I’m not saying I didn’t play a part in everything, but it all came to a head with her actions and her refusal to explain herself. If she hadn’t just left, if she had actually just spoken to me and explained what was going on her mind…
I’m not saying we would have stayed together. Maybe we wouldn’t have, and it would have hurt, but it would have been okay in the end. Instead, we’ve both been stuck in a three-year limbo, neither of us able to go back or move on while we were stuck in a whirlwind of feelings and “what ifs”.
So, no, it isn’t okay.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask.
More than wanting to know what had caused our sudden split, I’ve always wanted to know why she hadn’t felt like she could come to me. Before, we had trusted each other with everything. So what had changed?
Jessica looks away. She fiddles with a hole in her jeans and drags her cloak tighter around her. Owen stirs on her lap, as though subconsciously noticing his mother’s distress, and she glances at him before obviously forcing herself to relax.
“Do you remember when you joined the Roughshod Rollers?” she finally murmurs. “You were so excited…and I was excited for you. You didn’t have a lot of friends, really, and now you were going to meet a lot of people with the same interests as you.”
“Yes…” I say slowly, wondering what any of this has to do with what happened. I narrow my eyes. “Did you get paranoid because you thought I was joining a gang?”
“What?” Jessica asks, and she’s so genuinely startled that I relax. “No, of course not! You were always so happy. So I was happy for you to join them. Then, one night, we were talking about it, and you told me that your group of friends was almost as large as it was before we got together.”
I don’t like to think about that time. I purse my lips together.
“And?” I ask, my voice sharper than necessary.
“It just…got me thinking,” she says with a shrug, sighing. “You never spoke much about your past. I knew that you were in the foster system and that you didn’t have a great time there, but I didn’t know anything else. It was a little puzzling. But I put it out of my mind. I figured you’d tell me when you were ready. And then…”
She falters. And, with a blast of understanding, I know where this was going.
“You found my folder,” I breathe.
The folder in question… I don’t know why I keep it. Maybe to remind me what happens when I make the wrong choices and trust the wrong people?
“I didn’t mean to,” she says hurriedly. “I was cleaning in the study, and I knocked it over. I picked it up…and some old newspaper articles fell out. I was curious, and then…”
I carefully move Owen’s feet off my lap and get up abruptly. Jessica bites her lip as I stalk away.
I don’t know what I’m thinking right now. Almost mechanically, I rummage in the cupboard in my bedroom, finding the old folder I was looking for, and take it back to the living room. Jessica’s eyes go wide at the sight of it.