Fake love is weird.
Waking up every morning next to a man who thinks you are the love of his life is strange. And he is a very attentive, interested partner... I was hoping that this would be one of those relationships where the parties are just kind of on auto-pilot after a few years and don't take much notice of each other, but I guess true love, or something like it, does exist.
So when I start wearing less make-up than Valerie did, or I forego her favorite wedges for flats (even though let's face it, I could use the height,) Josh is there to raise an eyebrow. Not in a judgmental way, or an "I'm starting to suspect my fiancée has been replaced by a doppelganger" way, but in a "I'm in love with you and I am aware of these things" kind of way.
The big ones are the ones pertaining to everyday routines. I offered to cook, or do dishes, and he swatted me down: "Are you kidding? This is the best part of my day. You relax. Find us something on Netflix."
He clears the plates, and with a bit of sincerity, I ask, for both myself and Valerie, "What did I do to deserve you?"
"I don't know," he kisses me on top of my head, "But it must have been good because I'm great."
He re-appears in the doorway to the kitchen. "Oh, I remember now - you were just you."
I smirk. Humble, funny, affectionate. Valerie is lucky. So, can I bring myself to see myself as a lucky one?
I don't know. As much as, if you were Val, you wouldn't want somebody "filling in" in your relationship, it has happened, it's out of our control, and we need to do our best. And as much as, if you were me, you wouldn't want to have to pretend to be somebody you're not for too long, I have to think... it could be worse.
I'm not with someone who's argumentative or difficult or annoying. I don't ask a lot of him, but Val must have because he has internalized this need to serve and show off, which is weird, but I guess I want to return him to Val in that shape, so I can't go saying "Hey, just for this next year or so, we should be more like equals, roommates even, and then after I get back from my next trip to Maine you can go back to treating me like a princess. Please don't ask why."
He's actually pretty accepting... I mean, he can clearly tell that something is "up" with his fiancée, I think my blanket excuse that "Oh, I think the wedding prep is making me a bit crazy, just go with it," is... holding, more or less.
There's the physical aspect, of course. There's cuddling, hand-holding, and lots of kissing, which I just have to accept.
It wasn't that long ago that I broke up - or whatever it was - with Kitty. Was I a married lady, or just a person with a live-in partner in a relatively new relationship, or were we picking up where we left off when we were Alan and Greta, or... I mean, it was complicated, and it left me a trifle dazed. I got out of that feeling like I could really use some alone time, and then the Inn deposited me here. The result is not that far off from what I'm "used to" after so much time with Kitty, but very different in those key ways... something I can do, but not necessarily be happy about.
It can still be a bit hard to access, even for pretend purposes, the kind of feelings Val would express on a regular basis. And I mean, I'm still not fully healed from the last time I was in love and totally fucked it up. (Based on what I did to Meghan, do I really deserve to have someone love me for me ever again? A I totally innocent where Kitty is concerned? God only knows.) So there's a bit of a hiccup whenever I have to say, "I love you (too.)"
But it's getting easier.
Remember, more than a month has passed since I met this guy, and aside from taking longer in the bathroom in the morning than any man should, he hasn't shown any serious flaws. Do I think the relationship is perfect? Maybe not, but I can't say I blame him for that. He deserves his partner, and I'm finding it easier every day to be that for him.
I mean, four years ago, when this first happened, being told whom to sleep beside and kiss and spend so much of my waking hours with, would have been nightmare stuff. "You want me to what? Pass." I cast a lot of judgment on Meg for doing pretty much this same stuff with Wade back in the day and proudly told myself I would never.
Now, it comes a lot easier.
And you can forget all the weirdness of him being a guy because I'm not a guy right now and... I mean, maybe for the rest of my life I'll always be stuck somewhere in between. And while I'm still not entirely sure what that means for my true identity, what I really am deep down inside, it's less of a barrier.
That just leaves one.
Flashback: It's night two. I spent all day browsing the want ads for a possible job, put out some resumes, and fed the cat (an orange tabby named Cheddar who loves nuzzling my boobs - who wouldn't?) We had stir fry for dinner. My note, "It was good, but next time you should add mushrooms," is met with a puzzled reminder that I "hate" mushrooms. Whatever, that can change. We are on the couch and I am flipping through Netflix, as described above, trying discreetly to avoid things in the "Watch Again" tab that I haven't seen.
He returns and motions for me to lay my head down against this lap. Remember, it's night two so this is a pretty big test of my resolve. I find a different position, but I can tell he's feeling... frisky... because he's up against me like, well, Cheddar.
I had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner ("A second cup?" he says, Wow, who are you?" Somebody who needs to drink more to forget how badly she's failing at being Valerie, apparently) so I was feeling... okay. I let him kiss me. Let his hands go up and down my sides, feeling the strap of my bra (have I mentioned how sore my shoulders are from having to support these things all the time?) I'm warming up, but still not really into it, and I get taken further out of the moment with his next observation, "Hey, you've usually taken your bra off well before dinner. You going somewhere?"
I blush and push back a little bit. "Oh, um, I guess I forgot about it." (Heh, like I could. Your friendly reminder that the girls are quite overgrown now, and mighty unhappy about their confinement.) "Say, about that, there's something I've been meaning to ask. And if it's a 'no,' that's totally cool, but um... what would you say if we... didn't... do anything... until the wedding? You know... kinda save ourselves?"
He sits up and says nothing. Just blinks. Long pause. Buffering.
Flashback earlier that day: Panicked after night one and the possibilities, I call Valerie.
"So, uh," I say, nervously, "I'm sorry we didn't get to this sooner but... I mean, you're young, in love, and very pretty."
"Thanks," she said, apparently not sensing where I was going.
"What is your and Josh's situation like? I imagine he's... going to want to... get busy."
"Sex, Valerie. How, uh, do you want to play this?"
"Oh my God," she said, on the brink of tears yet again, "I can't even imagine! You don't want to--"
"No!" I said shortly, "I don't want to. Believe me, I can go without. But... like, how can we be fair to him? I'm going to be here a while."
"I don't know. The idea of sharing him is just... I'd rather die. I'm sorry, I know you didn't ask for this, and you may look like me, but... I can't get past it. It's disgusting."
"Right, right," I said. Now, I've heard a lot of people sort of surrender to the inevitability of this situation, but this is a natural reaction too. This is her fiancé we're talking about. Her man. She's entitled to some say, some jealousy.
"What if I said, let's wait until the wedding? To make it, like, special, or something?"
"But the wedding's in November..." she sighed, "What will you do after that?"
I kind of grumbled, "Well, I'll probably just have to face the music. But it's sort of a compromise."
She kind of grunted in frustration - whomever she has become normally has quite a nice voice, but it definitely capable of some bovine utterances.
"He probably won't go for it. I don't want this to cause trouble in my relationship."
"So... you want me to just have sex with him?"
"No. Maybe. If you have to. But not very often, and don't make it last any longer than it has to."
I rolled my eyes. Sounds like a great deal for me.
"He's out of town two weekends a month for work, I work a lot of weeknights--"
"Worked," I said, "You were fired for skipping shifts. I'll get a new job quick, though."
"Oh, right. Well, our schedules only line up so much, so it's like the planets really have to align for us to both be in the mood."
I looked down at my rack - I found it hard to believe he wouldn't be in the mood more often, but that's neither here nor there.
"Try the 'saving it' thing," she sighed. "That seems like the best option, but I doubt he'll agree."
Later that night: He spent a few moments thinking it over. Felt like five minutes but that's only because thirty seconds can seem like eternity when nobody's speaking. I held my breath. I was this close to saying 'Forget it, I was being silly, let's just do it right now.'
"Okay," he finally said, to my relief.
I raised my eyebrows. "Are... you sure?"
"Yeah," he said, in a way that actually meant 'no,' "If that's what you want. It sounds nice."
I threw my arms around him. "Thank you baby! I love you so much. I promise it will be worth the wait!"
We embraced, and kissed, and everything was great for a moment.
"It's just a shame, because, you know, that other promise."
I hated to break character again, because this seemed like it should be obvious to the real Valerie, but I had to ask. "Which promise was that?"
He looked at me like I was a total crazy idiot for forgetting - but at least a cute one that he couldn't wait to have sex with again. "The promise that you'd flush your birth control pills down the toilet once we got back from our honeymoon."
I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.