I don't need to worry, I said to myself. No worries.
I sensed that Joel had been a little scared by impulsively meeting my family, and the pressure it now placed on us. But it's normal enough, right? A few weeks before, he'd been rock solid while I'd been freaked out about us, and now I was really happy with the way things were going. So I could ride it out if he needed some breathing room.
This was reasonable, right? Normal? Healthy?
I mean, it's normal that he didn't immediately say, "Okay! Time to meet Michal!" as soon as the plane landed, right? And why would he have to call me first thing in the morning the next day? It's normal if a guy pulls back just a bit after a big move forward. Right?
-- Oh, gosh, I thought, feeling suddenly insecure: I need my dating coach.
It's normal if a guy pulls back just a bit after a big move forward. Right?
I'd not seen Rina much in the last several weeks and hadn't updated her on what was going on -- except to surprise her with the news that we were going to Philly (and would thus not be at her Seder).
I headed toward my car and ended up stopping in the huge Borders that abutted the parking lot. On impulse, I bought a new "gourmet" kosher cookbook for Rina and "The Phantom Tollbooth" for her kids. Even Ari was way too young for that, so I decided to get "The Giving Tree" for now as well. And for good measure, I picked up a copy of "Where the Sidewalk Ends" to give to Joel's daughter Michal when -- if -- I meet her.
I pulled into Rina's driveway and heard kids' playful screaming coming from the backyard. I grabbed the Borders' bag and, as I was accustomed to doing, let myself in through the side gate and started walking around toward the back. Voices hit me right away -- Rina's and a female voice I didn't recognize.
Before I could announce my presence, I heard the other voice saying in what I took to be a rueful tone, "At least, thanks to him I won't be having any more kids."
Ari had heard me coming. He called out my name and rushed at me as I came around the corner and stepped through a break in the landscaping onto the backyard's grass. Brushing a leaf from my hair, I smiled into the sun toward the patio.
"Jessica!!" Ari squealed again, knocking the Borders' bag from my arms. I scooped him up and started, hesitantly, walking toward Rina and her friend. I sensed that I had definitely interrupted something.
"Uh, hi," I said brightly, "I am sorry just to drop by. I'm back from Philly and I brought you some books. But I can just leave them for you..."
Rina looked, well, trapped.
"Jessica," she said, "this is my friend, Shelley. Shelley, this is Jessica."
"Hi," I said, feeling like I was missing something. "Nice to meet you..."
Oh gosh, this is awful. It's Joel's ex-wife and his daughter Michal.
Then it clicked. I turned and looked at the three kids playing in the yard: Rina's two, and another little dark-eyed girl. Change the eyes to green and I know that face...
-- Oh gosh, this is awful. It's Joel's daughter Michal.
I turned back to face the woman. Joel's ex-wife.
"Yeah, nice to meet you," Shelley said, coldly, her eyes narrowed.
-- Oy... of all days not to call before dropping by...
I tried to smile warmly. "I really am sorry to have interrupted you... Like I said, I got you and the kids some books, a, uh, cookbook..."
Should I pretend that I don't know who she is? Should I introduce myself to Michal? Is she watching? Should I just say, "This is awkward, let's all be friends?" Ex-wife, new girlfriend... Is there some rewind button I can press? How about, "Hey! I have a book for your kid, whom I am not supposed to meet yet..."
-- However awkward this is for me, I am sure it's worse for her, said a voice in my head.
I chose to play dumb.
"Well, I really should have called," I said, feigning cluelessness and smiling warmly at her. "But I am in a rush and just wanted to drop off the books..."
Shelley's face remained stone-cold. Rina, who caught on that I knew, looked strained but handled it graciously.
Shelley's face remained stone-cold. Rina, who caught on that I knew, looked strained but handled it graciously. If the kids sensed that anything was going on, they were distracted by the goodies inside the Borders' bag.
Before it could get any worse, I graciously high-tailed it back to my car.
My mind was racing: Shelley is Rina's friend? And she never told me? How on earth?
I somehow made it back to my apartment in what seemed like 12 seconds, having driven the entirety of Lincoln Drive without noticing. I walked in wondering what on earth Shelley meant when she said that she wouldn't be having any more kids thanks to "him." Had they been talking about Joel and me?
No kids, thanks to Joel?
My head was spinning. How much do I really know about him, or about his divorce? And I took him to meet my parents?!
I sunk into the couch and, on autopilot, listened to my voice mail: An old one from Joel I'd not erased, another from Beth, and then a familiar voice:
"Hi, Jessica. Uh, I know you're probably not expecting a call from me... I know it's been months since we've talked. But I, uh, I'd like to talk to you. I miss you..."
It was my old friend Rick.
Some days, one should never get out of bed.