I’ve known Laura Becker ever since we met in college years ago (too many years—I don’t like to count them). Marriage and a baby didn’t change her much, although they had given her new things to talk about. But Laura is the kind of person who feels comfortable talking about anything, which sometimes makes me nervous. I never know what she’s going to say next.
Also, Laura believes in mild physical exertion (i.e. healthful walks in the park).
“Good afternoon, Reese!” she said, appearing in my doorway with her baby (Marybeth) in a stroller. “Ready for a walk?”
“Does it matter if I’m ready?” I asked. One time, I had refused to get out of my bed when Laura had decided to walk with me. She had pulled the blankets off, bundled me into my clothes, and taken me outside, without being even slightly mean about it. And, just as she had said, I had felt better—although at first I’d wanted to strangle her.
“I’m willing to wait,” Laura said.
I didn’t have to keep her waiting for very long, but was soon ready to leave my little house with appropriate footgear on my feet and a bottle of water in one hand. Laura was adjusting her ponytail, eyeing her reflection in my kitchen window.
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah.” I didn’t sound enthused, because I wasn’t. Some days I really hate leaving my house.
Undeterred, Laura started walking, trundling Marybeth down the sidewalk ahead of her.
“How was your morning?”
It took a little prodding on her part, but I told her what I’d been doing: how Bailey had woken me up at an insanely early hour, how I’d tidied my house and worked on my budget (a little bit), and how I was beginning to run out of groceries. Laura listened to all this with apparent interest.
Then she told me about Marybeth. This always takes some time, because, in Laura’s mind, everything Marybeth does is worthy of discussion and praise. Much to Laura’s delight, Marybeth was apparently starting to gurgle the semblances of words.
When we reached the park, Laura stopped the stroller and went around it to peer at Marybeth. She gurgled at Marybeth. Marybeth gurgled back.
“See! She said mama,” Laura said proudly.
I hadn’t heard anything like that, but I decided not to mention that failure on my part. After all, sometimes I think I know what Bailey is saying, and Bailey is my cat.
I knew Laura wished I would find a man and settle down and have babies—“so we can relate more,” she’d said once—but that didn’t look too likely at the moment.
My boyfriend, Zach, and I hadn’t made many commitments of any kind. We’d only been kinda-dating for a few months, and he was gone a lot on business trips. All the time, really. I found his rushed emails to me endearing, but… not nearly enough.
“Reese? Are you OK?” Laura asked, glancing up from her darling baby.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
There was no reason to tell her the truth—not today, at least—that seeing her and her baby made me feel confused and uncertain. (What the heck was I doing with my life?) I wished we could jump back five years, when we’d both been younger and unattached and able to do anything we wanted (we thought).
I wished she’d leave Marybeth at home sometimes, so I could at least pretend. I was beginning to realize that the very sight of Marybeth could trigger something—a sadness?—I didn’t even understand.
I blinked, grinding the palm of my hand against my weary eyes. I was still tired. That was it. I was just tired.
Laura gave me a quick half-hug. Maybe she understood.
“Come on, precious,” she said. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. Let’s enjoy it.”
We started walking again.