Ever since this thing happened with Josh, my life has been a fight.
Fighting with Josh to disconnect Valerie's life from his.
Fighting with Valerie over what to do next... and who's actually to blame.
Fighting with myself over... well, everything.
Meg has said I have a guilt complex... I can somehow blame myself for everything but be very touchy when others do the same. Which probably explains how I can beat myself up over what happened but get very defensive when Val puts the blame on me for not being, well, her.
When I finally did sit down face to face with her, she looked exhausted. I think Anna's life is putting her through the wringer in addition to the emotional distress from the wedding fallout. Or maybe I'm just sexist and still think that anytime a woman doesn't put on full makeup she looks ill.
She met me at the coffee shop after work but we decided to go to a neutral location so that my co-workers wouldn't interrupt us.
Even though we had planned to have this big conversation, which I was sweating over all afternoon, neither of us really seemed to want to talk and we spent a lot of time making failed small talk about the weather and work.
Eventually I said, "I've been telling people what happened... everyone's very sympathetic."
"What have you been saying?" she got a worried look on her face.
"The truth," I shrugged, "He cheated, went back to his ex and fathered a lovechild."
She looked away. "I hope people aren't going to be too hard on him."
I sputtered, "What! Val, he's a monster! What he did--"
"I just don't know if he deserves to be shunned! He's such a good person..."
"How can you think like that?"
"Well--" she choked a little, "I still love him, Tyler. Part of me would even forgive him if I could talk to him directly."
I didn't comment on that.
"I keep wanting to tell you to go to him and say some things on my behalf, but I can't put you in that position, to say things you don't actually feel."
"That's a conversation you'd need to be there for," I said. "Maybe when you get back..."
She shook her head, "I should move on, really. I said part of me wants to forgive him, but the other part... I'm too devastated."
"I want to believe you did all you could," she sighed, "I don't want to go on blaming you, but the alternative is that it still would have happened if I were there, and that's hard to swallow."
"Uh huh." I hoped we weren't going to fight about it again.
"I just can't help it. I think he knew. I think he knew it wasn't me but he couldn't process it so it made him run. I don't care how much you look like me, you're not my essence. You're not even really a woman."
I don't know why, but that bugged me.
I have my own theories as to why it happened, which basically boils down to the relationship being broken on a fundamental level... maybe he was always iffy on her and from what I can tell - I'd never say this to her face but maybe I can get away with writing it here - she took him for granted. The way he behaved around me, he was used to the doormat treatment. It's not hard to see why a guy like that might stray.
I asked if she wanted to discuss our plans for returning to the Inn, and she said things were fine. "I don't want to think about how the life I'm going back to isn't the life I want."
"Fair, I guess."
"I heard you're living with Ryan Moreno now," she said with some consternation in her voice, "Be careful with that one, he's always had a crush on me."
I raised an eyebrow. "He seems fine. He's with someone."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, for now..."
I shrugged. "It's going okay. Gotta live somewhere."
"I would have moved back home... if it happened to me. I'd want to be with my mom."
I winced. "She's very sweet, but a bit overbearing I think. Very protective when I told her what happened."
That made her smile, weakly. "She would be."
There was a lull, and she said, "I'm dating someone."
I nearly spat my coffee. "What??"
"It's just casual. It won't interfere with the Inn. But even before the break-up with Josh I was lonely. You could say I'm on the rebound."
In my head I thought, it'd better not interfere. Out loud I said, "Do what you gotta do."
"Do you think you'd like sex, as a woman?"
"I've had it," I answered back, "I liked it, but I'm not missing it."
She snickered, "Liar." She sipped, "You find men attractive?"
She smiled in acknowledgment. "If I told you you could have some, would you?"
I bristled at having to get permission for it. I'd like to think that, after Josh, if I wanted it I would have pursued.
I shrugged. "Someone's bound to get hurt. Maybe me, maybe someone else." I nodded in her direction.
She sipped the last of her coffee and said my words back to me, "Do what you've got to do. We'll talk again soon."
I watched her go, taking her long, lean, willowy frame out into the cold night air. She left me with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach...