Dreams Unwind

[s e v e n]

There are times in every girl’s life that she needs her mother - first menstrual cycle, first kiss, first date, prom, her wedding… Without a maternal influence, life can be really difficult for a girl. And sure, my father and Uncle Henry have done the best they can over the last eleven years, but they haven’t exactly been the most nurturing. Starting my period for the first time had been an absolutely awful experience, and I still can’t look old Mrs Reynolds in the eye after she explained everything about puberty to my eleven-year-old self. She’d taken on the task rather well for it being shoved onto her unexpectedly by two uncomfortable bachelors and an awkward kid.

And this right here? This is the first time I’ve wished for my mother to be around. Even the mortification I endured during “the Talk” with Mrs Reynolds hadn’t made me wish for Dianne to still be in my life, but this is entirely different. My chest twinges with the phantom pains of spending the last decade without her; it doesn’t hurt, not really, to know that I wasn’t worth sticking around, especially since I know how hard my dad has worked to raise me properly and give me a good life, to make it so that I don’t miss out on anything that having a mother would provide.

I re-read through the text thread with Harry, though it does nothing to help me make up my mind. If I’m being honest - and I try to never lie to myself - a large part of me wants to say yes, go on a date with him, and see where it goes, but there’s another part of me that still hasn’t fully let go of Wil. The warring sections aren’t compatible; I can’t date or be happy with Harry while I’m still holding on to the past, and I don’t want to put the marriage to rest. Saying goodbye to that bit of my life fills me with dread. I sigh, lock my phone. Though I don’t feel remotely tired, I pad across the room and flip the light switch.

The moon shines brightly in the sky, the light seeping through the gauzy curtains over my window and illuminating my room in a soft, hazy glow. Tubs’s eyes glitter when he looks over at me from the bed, and my lips twitch upwards at his plaintive meow. Once I’m back on the bed, he pushes himself to his feet and curls up by my side; his nose is cold, wet, as he presses it to my chin.

“What should I do, fat boy?”

He doesn’t give an answer, not like I really expected him to. I exhale heavily and focus on relaxing my body, section by section, starting with my feet. I’m asleep before I reach my spine.

“What’s wrong, kiddo?”

I glance up from my breakfast as Henry emerges from the hallway. Sighing, I scoop up a spoonful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and let it drop back into the bowl. “Dad gone?”

“Yeah, he had to go to work early. Why?”

“I… I got asked out. On a date.”

“By the friend who found Tubs, I assume.” Henry pours two mugs of coffee, sliding one across the table to me, then settles into the chair to my right. “And you’re not sure if you should?”

“I mean, no, I’m not sure. He’s great, he really is. God, Henry, he’s so funny and smart and so sweet. But I don’t know if I should because of Wil.”

“Ah. Well, I can’t make the decision for you. This is something you gotta choose for yourself. Just know that if you decide to go on this date, I’ll keep your dad distracted.”

“Thanks, I’d appreciate that.”

“Okay, kiddo, I gotta get to work. Have fun in class.”

He leaves then, and I stare down at the cereal, now soggy in the bowl. My appetite is gone in the face of my uncle being incredibly unhelpful; dumping it into the trash, I rinse the bowl out and set it in the sink before heading to my bedroom. I change quickly into a pair of shorts and a tank-top, then pad across the hall to the bathroom. I rush through brushing my hair and brushing my teeth, trip over Tubs as he walks under my feet on my way out to the living room.

<< I’m sorry, I still don’t have an answer for you…

I toss my phone into the cup holder and start up my car. The song I’ve come to love is playing when the radio kicks on. Putting the car in reverse, I sing along to the voice crooning Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times, we gotta get away from here. A loud buzzing fills the air, and the song cuts off as my ringtone comes through the speakers. My brows furrow when I see the name on the display, but I answer Harry’s call regardless.

“Uh, hi?”

“Hey, are you busy?”

“I’m just driving to class. Why, what’s up?”

His sigh fills the speakers, and I wince at the crackling noise. “This is awkward, isn’t it. Sorry. I’m also driving, so I didn’t want to text. But I just wanted to tell you I meant what I said last night. Take your time, all the time you need. I’m not going to pressure you. And if, if you decide that you don’t want to go on a date with me, that’s fine, too.”

“Harry...”

“I’m serious.”

“I know you are.” And that’s what makes this such a hard decision, I think but don’t say. “Okay, well, I am almost to class. Can I call you later?”

“Of course.”

I murmur out a goodbye before hanging up. A sigh escapes, slowly pushing itself out from between my teeth. My finger taps on the steering wheel as I drive; I still have at least another twenty minutes before I reach campus, but I don’t feel guilty about the white lie I told Harry. It’s difficult enough to think clearly when I’m talking to him, and I really don’t want to say yes to dinner with him only to end up feeling like I rushed into it or, worse still, regretting it.

By the time I walk out of class, I’m no more knowledgeable in the lesson my professor was trying to teach, but I have a Word document with a pro and con list of dating Harry. The negative column is unsurprisingly scarce - besides his fame, I have yet to find something about him that doesn’t draw me in - while the positive column was overwhelming in its numbers: sweet, funny, didn’t judge me for freaking out like I did when Tubs first disappeared, generous... The list goes on and on. I slide into the driver’s seat of my car, stare out at the stretch of green grass in front of the parking lot. It hurts to think that I’d essentially be letting go of the last connection to Wil that I have left, but there is an aching in my chest when I think about what I could be giving up when it comes to Harry.

<< Dinner sounds great.

“Where are we going?” I ask again, and Harry flashes me a quick grin before focusing on the road. The clock on the dashboard reads almost nine at night, and there are very few other drivers out. My uncle had kept his promise of distracting my dad long enough for me to slip out of the house for the date I agreed to five days ago. When I realise Harry isn’t going to tell me, I sigh dramatically and flop back in my seat. “Harry.”

“You are very impatient.”

“I’m not good at waiting for surprises,” I admit, giving him a sheepish smile, though he doesn’t see it.

“Trust me, you’ll think it’s worth the wait.” His I hope is quiet, nearly inaudible, so I pretend I didn’t hear it at all.

“Again with the trusting!”

His laugh is warm, sudden, and I smile to myself at the sound. His hand slips from the wheel, goes back, then he reaches across the centre console to lace his fingers with mine. I squeeze his hand gently; tension I hadn’t noticed eases from his shoulders, and it hits me - he’s just as nervous for this date as I am. I shift in my seat so I can take in the sight of him. His outfit is no help in determining where we’re going, but the fact he’s told me to wear something casual hopefully means it’s nowhere fancy.

The beach stretches out before us, the sand nearly white in the glow from the moon, and the waves crash gently along the shore. He takes off his shoes as he stands next to the car, and I follow his lead, pass my flats over to him at his insistence, and wait for him to finish whatever he’s doing. I’m not entirely shocked to see the basket in his hands when he faces me again. I tuck his keys into my pocket so they don’t get lost, lock up the car. He leads me to a spot just out of reach of the water, and we settle down onto the ground, soft and still sun-warmed. His skin is pale in the moonlight, almost ethereal, and the green of his eyes is bright, vivid, as he stares at me.

“This is... definitely worth it,” I tell him a few minutes later; my heart clenches tightly in my chest at the way his lips quirk upward, the softest curve to his mouth calling me to kiss him.

“I’m glad. I, well, I figured if we came late enough in the day, there would be less chance of us getting interrupted, and if we tried going to a restaurant, it really wouldn’t have worked.”

“This is wonderful, Harry, really.” Biting my lip, I lean over to press a gentle kiss to his cheek. “Thank you.”

The food he’s packed isn’t fancy, not by any means. We don’t really speak much as we share the fruits and vegetables, but his arm stays pressed against mine while we sit on the beach, our legs spread out in front of us. Swallowing the bite of celery in my mouth, I nudge his shin with my foot.

“Thanks for being so great about Tubs. I’m... god, I’m sorry for how much of a bitch I was at first.”

“I told you, I understood why. You were scared.”

“I never explained why he was so important to me.” I drag in an unsteady breath, turn my gaze back to the water that dances and glitters with the touch of moonlight on its surface. “I told you I adopted him from the shelter, but... I actually adopted him with Wil as a wedding gift to ourselves.”

“Oh, so you’re, what, a divorcee?”

“Uh, no, not quite.”

His voice has lost all warmth when he says, “So you’re still married.”

“I mean, technically, but not legally?”

“How is that even possible?”

The hurt and confusion on his face makes me want to cry. Here I am trying to explain, and instead, all I’m succeeding in doing is mucking everything up. I sigh, wipe the sand on my palm onto the leg of my jeans. “Can’t exactly be married to a dead guy, Harry.”

My admittedly morbid joke falls flat, the words hanging heavily in the air between us. Harry stares at me for a long moment; his mouth opens as if to say something but then closes without anything coming out. I force a smile and exhale shakily before I shrug.

“We’d been married for a little under two years when his heart just... stopped working. No warning whatsoever. One night, we’re going to bed happily married, and the next morning, I’m waking up a widow. Emergency got there too late to do anything. Coroner said he had undiagnosed cardiac issues that never presented before, so there was no way we could’ve seen it coming. Let me tell you, finding out your husband’s death was basically a matter of time doesn’t really do much to change how much it fucking hurts to have to plan his funeral.” I sniffle and brush a tear from my cheek. “So I guess since I never technically got a divorce, I’m still married, just without a husband.”

“Do you want to talk about him?” he asks, so quietly that I almost think I misheard him.

“Don’t you think that’d be a bit awkward for you? To have to hear about my dead husband on our first date?”

He shrugs, reaches for my hand; his thumb rubs gently across my knuckles. “Not really, I don’t think. I get the feeling you don’t get the chance to talk about him often. And well, I’ve two perfectly good ears in proper working condition.”

The weight on my shoulders seems to melt with his words, the ball of dread and finality in my gut loosening. I clear my throat, blinking rapidly to force away the tears. I hesitate for just a moment then rest my head on his shoulder and think about what I want to say.