Settling on the couch with her soup, Vanessa sorted through the mail. Bill, bill, catalog. Thrilling. She closed her eyes and focused on the flavor of the soup and the feeling of it warming her throat. It was a small pleasure; those were the kinds she found she mostly relied on at home. Her overstuffed couch; her new HDTV; Bruce the dog; warm wonton soup.
She'd always been a social person. She enjoyed the company of her coworkers and took great joy in the time she spent with the children and families at the center. And even though she abhorred the public speaking aspect of her job, she did enjoy casual conversation with many of the people who came to hear her speak. So being alone--or more specifically, living alone--did not suit her well. Often she found her mind wandering to a variety of different subjects, but usually it settled, on lonely nights, with John.
She met him her first year of graduate school. He was older; working on his doctorate in sociology while she was majoring in early childhood education. She had agreed to participate in a research study for credit in one of her classes, and he was the researcher. When she had arrived to complete the initial paperwork, he had barely looked up at her--just handed her the form with instructions to complete it and see him to set up a time for the rest of the study. She had sat down opposite him and filled in the questionnaire; all factual information that came easily to her and allowed her the opportunity to glance at him for a few moments before handing in the sheet.
He was working doggedly on his data. He had shaggy blonde-brown hair that desperately needed brushing and a five o-clock shadow. She found herself briefly wondering if perhaps she would one day look like him as she finished up her research and dissertation. When she gave the form back to him, he had looked up, smiled, and thanked her. The fact that she had run into him at the local campus bar a few days later was kismet. She brought up his research study, of which he eagerly divulged way too much information. She had listened, fascinated to hear him talk, to hear how his brain connected to his mouth, to hear his ideas about dynamics and attitudes between social classes. She ended up losing the credit for the study--she could no longer participate knowing what she knew about it--but gaining a boyfriend.
They had dated for five years. They were both passionate, but as it turned out, not for one another. He was fine with that. She wasn't. He wanted a comfortable partner; someone to eat pancakes with and discuss world issues and share passions about careers. She wanted someone who was passionate about her.
She almost settled. She almost agreed to wear the ring. When she had asked him "Why now?", he had replied, "Because it's time, don't you think?" No. She didn't think it was time. She wasn't on a timetable.
Breaking his heart was the hardest thing she had ever done. Looking into her best friend's face and telling him she couldn't proceed according to plan hurt like hell. She desperately wanted to do it, to tell him yes, to agree to do what it was time to do. But she knew in her soul that all the love she felt for him now was all she would ever feel, and it wouldn't be enough, in the end, for either of them.
So now she sat alone, sipping her soup, watching Bruce lie on the rug, and thinking about John. He found someone to replace her quickly. They married less than a year later. She had heard a few months ago, from a mutual friend, that he had a child with his wife. And when she heard, she felt a twinge of regret. That could have been her. Wife of a good man, mother of a new baby. Home and family and all she always fantasized about. She wondered if he loved his wife more than he had loved her. Then she wondered if she expected too much from other people. Then she wondered if she expected too much from herself.
Soup finished, she tossed the container in the trash and grabbed her laptop to complete leftover work from the day. Bruce hopped onto the couch--all seventy pounds of him--and settled next to her. Despite the laptop, he nudged the tip of his snout onto her thigh and glanced up at his mistress. Vanessa smiled and reached down to rub his head and scratch his ears. "Good boy," she told him, and his tail thumped on the couch before he closed his eyes slowly. She studied him for a moment, thinking about how he seemed to sense her moods and feelings far more accurately than John ever did. She closed the laptop quietly and set it aside. Rubbing Bruce's ears, she closed her own eyes, and finally let her mind rest.