The day after I told Emma my story, Paul comes over to my place with some food, and we watch some movie that is only playing in the background because I know Paul actually came over to grill me about Emma.
I take a sip of my beer without looking at him sitting next to me on my couch. “You can stop pretending to pay attention to the movie, you know?”
“Excuse me?” Out of the corner of my eye, I see him turn his head to me.
I shrug. “You keep shifting in your seat, and you clear your throat like you want to say something.” I look at him with a raised eyebrow. “I know you’re dying to ask.”
He groans and rolls his eyes. “Then spill, you stupid moron! Did you tell her?”
I take a deep breath before I finish my beer. I put the bottle on the table and turn to face him. “I did.”
He looks at me expectantly and moves his hand in a go-on-gesture. “Care to elaborate?” he asks.
I frown. “It sucked. Just as I expected. And what sucked even more was the look on her face when we talked about Kate. It seemed like it physically pained her that Kate could touch me and she couldn’t.”
"Aw yeah, that sucks. Did you tell Emma that you’re seeing your therapist again?”
I nod. “I told her I was hopeful that I would finally get a grip on things. But then she asked me if I slept with Kate. Things went a little downhill from there again.”
He looks at me wide-eyed. “You slept with Kate? You never mentioned that.”
“Yeah, once,” I sigh. “Big mistake. Drunken mistake, too. That was toward the end. She was transferred to Atlanta not too much later.”
“Wow, her return makes a little more sense now. Do you think that she might want to pick up where you left off?”
I give him a questioning look. “Why would she?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. She just seemed so excited to see you. Even if it’s been - what? Two years?”
“Yeah, two years,” I confirm. “But we hardly talked, at least for the last year or so.”
He narrows his eyes at me but shakes his head. He apparently decided to drop the topic. “Did you tell Emma about your, uhm, drinking habits?” he asks instead.
“My drinking habits?” I look at him with raised eyebrows. “You mean how I get wasted to fuck some girl? Yes, I told her. And honestly, I’ve never felt more embarrassed and remorseful in my entire life.” I groan and run my hand over my face.
“Hey, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’ll give you a new impetus to change things. How are your therapy sessions going, by the way?”
“Not sure. I only had two so far. It’s good to talk about things again. And ever since I’ve met Emma, I do feel a little more hopeful that I’ve finally found my motivation. She stirred something in me. You know, when I watched her lick that fucking popsicle-” I take a deep breath when memories of that moment come back, “-that was the first time since Audrey that I had a physical reaction to a woman while being sober. I did wonder if my dick was broken because it only works when I’m drunk. But watching Emma - that went straight to my groin.”
Paul holds up his hands. “Okay, okay, enough information. I get it. You want her. Even though she’s pregnant?”
“I don’t care about that. I can’t explain what this is. I want to be with her, and if that includes a baby, then so be it.”
“But what about all that just friends-crap?”
I snort. “That’s no crap. I can’t ask her to be my girlfriend but tell her at the same time that she can’t touch me.”
Paul bursts out laughing. “Ask her to be your girlfriend? How old are you? Twelve?”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry Mr. I’m-gonna-harass-her-until-she-sleeps-with-me. Poor Tessa only put out because you wouldn’t leave her alone.”
Paul gasps and gives me a shove. “That’s not how it went at all, you stupid jerk. At least I didn’t lie to her by telling her I wanted to be just friends while secretly lusting after her.”
“Yeah, whatever.” I wave him off and get up from the couch to get new drinks.
“So when are you seeing your new friend again?” Paul yells after me.
I’m glad that he can’t see me right now, how that silly grin spreads on my face when I tell him, “I’m meeting her after work tomorrow.”
The next day, that silly grin doesn’t leave my face. My colleagues give me weird looks when they see me, but I don’t care. I can’t wait to finish work so I can go over to Emma’s place to pick her up for an early dinner. And when I knock on her door and she opens and smiles at me, my heart skips a couple of beats. She looks stunning in jeans and a light yellow top that matches her beaming smile.
My gaze wanders down her body and lingers on the hint of a bump. She wore a loose-fitting shirt when I took her to Lucy’s birthday, so I didn’t realize there was one already. But the top she wears today clings to her curves, and you can see a tiny baby belly. And damn, if that doesn’t make me feel the strangest things.
She notices me staring and follows my gaze. She gasps and puts a hand on her belly. “Ah, fuck. I know I should have put on a different shirt. This makes me look so fat.” She sighs and steps aside to let me enter.
I give her a scolding look. “Shut up. You look gorgeous.” I laugh when she rolls her eyes. “You do! - Hey, Peach.” I smile at her.
She returns my smile. “Are we not done with that yet?”
“Nope. That’ll stick.”
She shrugs. “Okay then. I guess it could be worse. And hi.” She winks at me as she walks ahead into the kitchen. “Come on. I’ll get you a drink. I’m not ready yet.” She turns her head back to look at me. “I need to change shirts.”
“Don’t you dare,” I say as I follow her and sit down at her kitchen table.
She puts a glass and a bottle of water in front of me when her phone, which lies on the table next to me, starts ringing. I see “Mom” flash on the screen and look at Emma. A deep frown forms on her forehead, and she wrinkles her nose.
“Shit, not what I need right now.” She sighs and slumps down on the chair next to me. She seems to weigh her options before she finally answers the call by putting her mom on speaker. I give her a questioning look, but she buries her face in her hands when she says, “Hey, Mom! How are you?”
“Emma, sweetheart, I’m glad I caught you.”
After what Emma told me about her mother, a tiny shiver runs down my spine when I hear that woman’s voice. There’s no warmth, nothing that would give her away as Emma’s mother.
Emma keeps her face buried in her hands and slightly shakes her head. “Why, what’s going on?”
“I’m still waiting for your answer to that job offer I told you about.”
“Mom, my answer is no. I will not accept that offer.”
Emma’s mother sighs, and you can hear the annoyance. “Emma, you’re testing my patience here. You can’t refuse if you haven’t even talked to him or seen the clinic.”
“Yes, I can. And I will. I am not taking this job.”
“Sweetie, you have an interview with that doctor on Friday. I’ve already booked a flight for you,” she says in a sweet voice.
“YOU WHAT?” Emma smacks her hands flat on the table which makes me jump. She inhales slowly and deeply, probably trying to calm down. “You have no fucking business meddling in my life like this!”
“Emma! Language, please!” Now her mother sounds just as angry. “I’ll text you the flight details, and I hope to see you on Friday.” When she goes on, her sweet voice is back. “It would make your dad so happy.”
Oh wow, what a manipulative woman that is! Emma stares at me wide-eyed and points to her phone as if to say “See what I mean?”.
“Yes, Mom, I know,” she finally says. “I’m still going to refuse.”
I hear her mother take a deep breath. “You have until Friday to decide.” And after a short silence, she adds, “Oh, and I met this very nice young man at this dinner party last weekend. A very handsome guy. He’s 34 and a lawyer.”
I give Emma a quizzical look. What is she getting at? Emma grimaces and squeezes her eyes shut. “Mom, please tell me you didn’t-”
“I gave him your number, and he might call you sometime.”
Emma gasps. “Are you serious? What the-” She doesn’t finish the sentence.
“It’s time that you-”
“No, Mom! Enough! It’s time that you stop meddling in my life. I’m hanging up now. I can’t talk to you any longer. Bye, Mom.” And without waiting for a response, she ends the call. She stares at her phone for a minute, taking slow, deep breaths.
“Emma,” I say softly after a minute of watching her. And suddenly it hits me: I want to comfort her. I want to take her in my arms and tell her it’s all right. I want to gently stroke her hair and tenderly kiss her forehead.
Out of its own accord, my hand slowly inches closer to hers until I gently place it on top of it. This time, the contact makes her flinch, and she jumps up with a frustrated groan. She walks over to the sink, grabs the dishcloth, and starts to wipe the countertop frantically.
I get up too and walk over to her. I watch her trying to clean a spot that’s not there, rubbing the surface over and over again. She draws in a ragged breath, and I know that she’s close to tears. I take the cloth out of her hand, lay it aside, and turn Emma to me. “Hey, shh, it’s all right,” I say in a low voice. Taking a deep breath, I wrap my arms around her and press her against my chest. She covers her face with her hands and starts sobbing. Her whole body is shaking now that she lets the tears fall. I gently rub up and down her back in what I at least hope is a soothing manner.
I close my eyes and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply. And even though my heartbeat accelerates, it doesn’t feel like usual. Only slowly, my whole body tenses up, but what’s most important, Emma doesn’t seem to notice my slowly growing unease.
Another minute or two passes in which I feel her relax slightly until another minute later, I loosen the embrace and take a step back. Emma wipes the tears away that were streaming down her face and looks up at me. And for a few moments, we stare at each other. The sense of unease vanishes quickly, but my heart still beats faster than it should.
Emma’s lips lift in a small smile and she whispers, “Thank you.”
I nod and return her smile.
Emma takes a deep breath when she averts her eyes. “See? That’s what I was talking about when I told you about my mother,” she says as she sits back down at the kitchen table.
I join her. “Yeah, you weren’t kidding.” I fill the glass that she put on the table for me earlier with water and hand it to her. “Here, drink.”
She gratefully accepts and takes a few sips. “My mom thinks I’m a failure,” she says as she puts the glass back down on the table. “With my dad being a surgeon and my brother studying medicine, she’s a little disappointed that I’m just a nurse, and unmarried at that. Single even.” She watches a little drop of water run down the glass before she wipes it away. With a sigh, she continues to talk, “Have I told you that my brother is gay?” She lifts her gaze and looks at me.
I shake my head. “No, you haven’t. Wow, that must have been a shock to your mom.”
Emma snorts. “Yeah, big shock! But then she realized that having a gay son brought her lots of sympathy points from her so-called friends. Poor woman! Imagine that: he might never provide her with grandchildren. Me on the other hand, I still refuse to settle down, find myself a wealthy man and have lots of babies.” She leans back in her chair and puts her hands on her belly. “Poor peanut,” she sighs. “My mom is gonna go ballistic when she finds out.”
I chuckle, and she narrows her eyes at me. I raise my eyebrows at her. “Peanut?”
She shrugs but smiles. “Yeah, I kinda started to call him that. Or her. But I think it’s a him.” She gently strokes her belly again which makes me feel a little fuzzy.
Damn, I need to snap out of this. Thoughts of playing happy family cross my mind and that needs to stop. We’re friends. And friends only.
“Come on,” I say as I get up. “Let’s go have dinner and the best dessert in the world to cheer you up.”