“But that was her making the decision to walk away,” Ethan says. “I’m asking you how you would feel if you were the one to walk away.”
The idea of having a decision like that is heady. I could make that decision. Not entirely, because of Owen, but I could distance myself emotionally from Jessica. I did try it once, after all. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but I’d tried. I tried when she left, and I tried when she returned, but I keep being dragged back to her.
Is it against my will? At times, it felt like it was, like I was being dragged kicking and screaming back into her presence. With Owen, it feels like I have little choice, as though the world is telling me to suck it up and deal with it. But does that mean we should be together?
We shouldn’t. On paper, none of it makes any sense at all. She left me. She lied to me. I kept secrets from her. We didn’t have a healthy relationship to start with.
But what about now, now that all the secrets are out in the open? She knows something of what happened to me. I know what she did. We both have Owen to look after. There’s very little left that either of us don’t know. And the things that haven’t been said don’t seem to matter much anymore.
I glance at Ethan. Can I deal with walking away from Jessica?
Part of me wants to, so badly. To throw my hands up and say “Screw you, world, I’m not doing what you want”.
But then I remember why I asked Jessica on the date in the first place. I remember the way her short hair fell around her face, and the way she had laughed, her face alight with joy. I remember thinking that I hadn’t ever seen her like this, even when we were together, and I wanted to see more of it. We spent hours playing on the floor with Owen the other day, crawling around with him, heedless of how much larger we were or how childish we felt to be playing with toy cars. We felt ageless.
“Do you want Jessica in your life?” Ethan asks softly. “Or do you want to hold her at arm’s length, seeing her only when you see Owen? Can you handle that?”
“Do you think I can handle it?” I ask tiredly.
“I don’t know,” Ethan says, shrugging. “As I said, I can’t tell you what to do. Whatever you decide, that’s your decision, and I’ll stand behind you one hundred percent. If you want a relationship with her, then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t force yourself, no one will blame you for it. I won’t blame you for it.” He gives me a small smile. “I know I couldn’t do it. But I’m different to you, and Polly has been gone a lot longer, with no intention of coming back and trying at all. Jessica is trying…but you need to figure out what you want, not what she wants or what everyone else wants from you. If you decide not to try a relationship, then she’ll still be in your life, but it’ll be like she’s barely there, anyway.”
“I’ve already lived with a reality without her,” I can’t help but point out. “She was gone for three years. Wouldn’t seeing her every now and then for Owen’s sake be better that not seeing her at all?”
“Not really,” Ethan says. “You might think you lived without her for three years…but did you?” He spears me with an intent look. “Or did you live with her shadow for three years?”
I falter. He isn’t wrong. Jessica might not have been physically with me…but she also never quite left. Her picture was in my wallet. She was always in my thoughts. She was right there beside me, every step of the way.
And that’s why this decision is so hard.
Ethan claps me on the shoulder.
“Go to work,” he advises. “Think about it. Don’t make a snap decision; it’s a big one, after all. Then, when you’re sure, talk to Jessica about it. I think she’ll understand, no matter what. She knows how muc
h she owes you, and even though she’s trying, she hasn’t tried to push you too much.”
“Yeah,” I say hoarsely. “She’s been pretty good about me being so up and down… Though I’m not sure how she’ll take me leaving this morning. I just needed to get out of my head.”
“She’ll understand,” Ethan says again. “And, if she doesn’t…then maybe she isn’t worth it.” He smiles at me. “Just think about it.”
He stands and stretches.
“Lily left her console plugged in last night,” he says, eyes twinkling. “Want to race, like old times?”
I snort and get to my feet. The serious air instantly dissipates.
“I’ll thrash you,” I promise.
Ethan’s right. This is a big decision. I need to think it through carefully. I’ll try not to take too long, but I hope Jessica will give me the space I need to finally figure out what I want.
When I woke up to that message, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t angry or hurt. I was upset, yes, because who wouldn’t be? But I was more upset at myself than anything else. Because I knew that I brought this on myself.
Slowly, I drag myself out of bed. There doesn’t seem to be much point to getting up, except that I need to ask Allison to bring Owen back at some point. Also, it’s Wednesday. I have work, don’t I? I have to get Owen to daycare.