These days John had the constant sense that everything was a test.
It wasn't just the vague suspicion that everyone blamed him, just a little, for the breakup. It was everything, every piece, felt just a little off kilter, a little askew.
He'd never been good with change. So maybe that was it. Maybe this was all just adjustment.
And then there was this love. And lust. And excitement. Or whatever it was. Whatever it was it was incredible. Instinctual.
And yet really awful. In some small way. Like a fantasy he had forgotten he had always wanted had descended and taken over the best part of himself, and then this other part, his real self was sitting, watching the greatest story unfold, alone, on the couch, constantly amused and amazed by this story, but a little uncomfortable with its earnestness. Like a movie critic watching a romantic comedy. Warner Herzog with a big bucket of popcorn being forced to watch Harry and Sally for the fifth time.
And when Jessica was around he mostly forgot this other piece of him. He became all these things he had always wanted to be. Jessica laughed and told him stories he wanted to hear and almost never put her clothing on. She screamed and moaned. She seemed to be strangely at home in her body and at home with his. With Helena there was always a sense that she was trying, very hard, to be comfortable but was always, just a bit, making the effort.And he was always trying. It was hard, self conscious.
Jessica existed with a comfortable lack of irony. And yes sometimes he did wonder, just a little bit, if this meant she was just a little less intelligent than she could have been. But an unabashed enthusiasm for herself, and for him made him want to fuck her constantly.
He was awesome. She was awesome. All his friends even thought she was awesome and they told him so, comfortingly, whenever they had a chance. "You know, she is actually pretty incredible. I know this is a big change but she is awesome."
Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
And she almost didn't notice the ghost in the room, sitting next to John, a ghost who seemed to making herself at home, instead of coming around less and less, a ghost he was increasingly happy to see and he more and more wanted to talk to just for a moment.
It seemed like such a fucking cliche. "I feel like I am losing my best friend". Hell, Helena and he had barely even talked by the time she left. She was always analyzing and over analyzing and almost eerily present and it got exhausting. He'd just want to play cards and shoot the shit and he'd just find himself wishing she could be just a little more vacant, and a little more natural, a little more at peace.
But still, there had been something about her. Something that made him feel grounded, safe, motivated. He'd felt more comfortable ignoring than he'd ever felt captivated by another woman.
Looking back, well, that seemed like a shitty thing to think. So he blocked it. He blocked that thought along with another thought that frequently presented at the worst moments. A thought he hated himself for. A thought that made him resent Helena for leaving so willingly, so generously. He blocked the thought along with the constant questions he had around his wife: how was she doing, what was she doing? Did his other friends see her? Was she happier now? And who the fuck gives up a whole life as a some sort of altruistic gesture? Who is that stupidly magnanimous?
And so he blocked the thought along with the confusion and the resentment of how smoothly things had gone, how perfectly he'd been forced to play his hand, how completely he owed Helena for this new chance at happiness.
And this though was, very simply: with Jessica I am the man I always wanted to be for Helena.
How unfair was that?