Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
As they disappeared down the trail, Jay turned to me. He smiled widely.
“Your husband was a fool to let you go,” he said.
“He didn’t exactly let me go. I left.”
“Why did you leave?” I noticed that as we talked, Jay’s eyes never turned away from me. I realized that I didn’t know many people who gave someone their full, undivided attention when they spoke.
I hesitated. There was a part of me that wanted to tell him, but I was afraid. “It’s a long story.”
“We’ve got time.”
I took a deep breath. “Last summer I was pregnant. And I miscarried. It was the worst day of my life,” I managed. “And he blamed for it.”
Jay simply continued to look at me. “That’s a shame,” he said. “But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”
I nodded. “It wasn’t a single thing. He became my whole world. I didn’t have any identity outside of being his wife.”
“And you left to find it?”
I nodded. I was acutely aware of everything that was happening around us in that moment. The soft rustle of the leaves, the crickets. The starry night sky. It was like something out of Van Gogh. I had no idea where we were and I liked it that way. I never would have done anything like this with Simon. There were times when we talked about driving down to Yosemite but there was always an excuse as to why it couldn’t happen. And even then, we would have stayed in a hotel. Not under the stars like this. I could hear his excuses now. It’s cold. It could rain. It’s dirty. I don’t want insects crawling on me at night.
He led me over to the fire pit, where we sat. “I’m asking because I know a little bit of what it’s like,” Jay told me. He laughed ruefully. “I was married once.”
“She left me.” He looked away, and I saw his whole body become tense. “But that doesn’t matter. It’s no use dwelling on the past. The only thing that matters is right now.”
“I like that.” Before he could respond, we saw Alex, carrying a load of firewood, appear out of nowhere. Jay didn’t seem happy to see her. “What are you doing back?” he demanded.
“I came to drop off the firewood,” she said.
“I can see that.” Alex stood there limply. She set the firewood in pit and sat next to us. “Where’s Sasha?”
“She’s still out.” We sat there, the three of us, in awkward silence.
“Alexandra,” he said. “We’re having a private conversation.”
“Go find Sasha. Now.”
Still, she stayed.
Then, Jay started to yell, and it scared me. “How am I supposed to do anything if you’re always hanging around me? You’re not going to die if we’re apart for a few minutes. My god.” With that, she stood up and disappeared down the trail. Jay must have realized that I was unnerved. “I’m sorry about that.”
For a moment, I didn’t respond. “You know, my husband used to yell at me like that.”
Jay bit his lip. I’ve often wondered if there was any part of me that got through to him in that moment. “She needs to learn not be so attached.”
“She’s in love with you,” I said. “I can tell.”
Jay pursed his lips. “The fact remains. She needs to learn to share her love.” Then, he smiled. “Where were we?”
“Time, I think.” His eyes then moved to my watch, and he told me that I didn’t need any more. That long ago, there was no time. That long ago our ancestors woke when the sun rose and ate when they were hungry, and no one had to be anywhere at any specific point. That they’d been living like this for months now, and there was no going back. Then, he took off my watch. It was a small thing, but it felt freeing. “Helen,” he said then. “Why don’t we go on a walk?”
He stood up and offered his hand to help me. I stood beside him just as Sasha and Alex came back with more firewood.
“Start the fire,” he said. “We’ll be back.” They nodded without another word and he led me down the trail. As we walked, it was just us, the trail, and the moonlight. I started wondering about Simon. My note had been vague, but I told him not to look for me. Still, he must be worried sick. My family must all being worried sick. As taken as I was with Jay, I wondered if I’d made a mistake.
“I’m sorry that I yelled in front of you. I don’t usually do that,” Jay said. It took me a moment to process what he’d said, but it brought me back.
“It’s okay,” I responded. We walked for another moment in silence. “Jay?” I asked. “Do you ever miss your wife?”
“Why would you ask a thing like that?”
“I just wondered, is all. I’m just wondering if I made the right choice.” He was silent for a long time, by which point we came to a grassy field at the edge of the lake. I was about to apologize for asking when he told me, “No. No I don’t. Everything with her… it was like a haze. And then, when she abandoned me, it all came clear. I would hope you feel the same.”
I listened, taking in everything he was saying.
“All that matters is right now.”
He kissed me then. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. And I want to give you what he couldn’t.” I’d definitely never felt this way with Simon. This was something entirely different. He put his hand on the zipper of my dress.
“What about Alex?” I asked, as if it would have made a difference.
“Don’t worry about her.”
And we made love. I could be barely believe what was happening, and how ridiculous this entire day had been. But in that moment, nothing else mattered. For the first time in a long time, I was happy. I could live like this. With them. I had a feeling I could get the girls to like me, if only we had more of a chance to talk.
Alex and Sasha were waiting by the fire. Logs were already placed in the pit. It was clear they knew exactly what had happened but they said nothing. “We started building it,” Alex said. Sasha had the lighter fluid beside her, and they got it going. We all sat, comforted by its warmth.
“Helen’s a part of us now,” Jay said. The girls both smiled at me. Jay talked to us for a while, now about Tabula Rasa. The philosophy that at birth we’re a blank slate, and the world is what corrupts us. That we’d start over with a clean slate, and anyone who was open to the truth would be able to be a part of the world we’d create. It all sounded very nice. Then, he told us that he was tired and excused himself to his tent.
It was just the three of us now. They both fidgeted around me, even though Alex was clearly more uncomfortable.
“Can I talk to you?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said, without looking at me.
“I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
“Yeah,” Alex said, still not looking at me.
“You know,” she muttered. I only barely heard her. “I’m sure you’ve never had any problem getting guys in your life.”
It was only partly true. Still, I said nothing. Then, Sasha spoke. “You know. We all have things we left. What’s good is that we found each other. And that Jay could bring us all together.”
“Right,” I said. “I think it’s like he said, we have a chance to start over, and not worry about anything that happened before.”
Alex turned to face us now. “I can tell he cares about you,” I said.
“I know he does,” said Alex. “It’s just, I had nothing before. And he saved me.”
This made me smile. “He seems like a great person,” I responded. “And I don’t know about you, but you both seem pretty cool. I want us to be friends. I definitely don’t want to go back to San Francisco." I laughed. "You know, I went through most of my life with most people not caring about what I had to say because they were so absorbed in themselves. So absorbed in what’s going to happen tomorrow. Being here with you guys, I feel more whole than I have in a long time.”
They both smiled. “We love you, Helen,” said Sasha.
“What was it like, being married?” Alex asked after a while.
“It wasn’t all that.”
We all laughed, and talked well into the night. That was my first night with them.
And of course, you know the rest.