Not the whole rebuilding her life thing, because she’s not stupid enough to think that’s done in a couple of months but they’ve been here for almost a year now and all she’s done is initiated a relationship with a man who’s so damn serious that she gets nervous every time he calls.
She likes Thom. He’s sweet and harmless. Jean loves him. But Cindy doesn’t and she can’t have a relationship with someone who ignites stronger feelings in her kid than he does in her.
She has no idea how to tell him, though. No idea how to have relationships at all, at least not wholesome and healthy ones.
Avoiding Thom is the easiest, at least at first, so it’s what she does. She avoids him and drowns herself in the low-wage job she’s managed to land as an aerobic instructor down at a local gym.
It’s decent enough, it pays some of the bills and it keeps her in shape.
Feels good to have something even if it’s very much a part-time job and even if it’s hardly the sort of thing that makes for a lasting career.
The job also introduces her to Eric, another part-time instructor at the gym.
He’s friendly and warm, in an almost overwhelming sort of way but she likes it. It makes her feel wanted, as though he’s choosing her among all the women in the world, as though he’s met them all and decided he wants her. It’s a powerful feeling and she welcomes it because it’s not the same kind of thing as Thom, not the same nagging fear of getting too involved.
She thinks she’d like to be more involved with Eric.
Perhaps. Or at least get to know him better.
He’s not a career-man and even though he’s a couple of years older than her he’s not properly employed but he’s hard-working, he says. Hard-working and eager to get his life back on track after a bit of a bad period.
They fall into the habit of leaving the gym together and usually end up at her place, cooking and eating long after Jean has grown tired of sitting around. After dinner Eric does the dishes and there’s a sense of attentiveness in it that she likes. Probably wouldn’t be a big deal for most people – it’s not impressive to clean up after yourself, it’s really nothing out of the ordinary – but it is for her. Some part of her is still that knocked-up teen that no one wanted anything to do with and kindness, any kindness, claws its way into her heart.
That autumn, when the first snow falls, Eric is there with her and they play in it outside, waiting for the school bus to drop Jean off. It feel silly in a good way, like she’s young. She can’t remember ever being that young.
They’ve dated for months before Eric even spends the night at her place. He doesn’t ask about it, she doesn’t talk about it and one night it just sort of happens.
It has felt weird waiting for so long, has almost felt like they haven’t been serious about each other but now that it happens it makes every sense that it didn’t happen sooner. She can’t explain it, really, it’s just how it feels.
From that day on, Eric more or less stays with them the whole time.
It’s a life she’s never had, a life she wouldn’t even have been able to dream about because she wouldn’t have had any idea. Now that she does, she finds herself terrified to lose it instead and every little non-positive and happy thing that happens between them – if he’s tired and not talkative in the mornings, if Jean complains about something, if the milk has gone sour and both of them get cranky – gets twisted in her mind into a dark threat to their happiness.
When she finds herself – despite using protection, she’s not stupid enough not to, not twice – nauseous in the mornings and exhausted like a walking dead she isn’t happy. She is grieving because to her, it has not been a positive thing before. It has not been much of a choice either, since she had discovered she was pregnant with Jean when it was already too late to do something about it.
Now, she feels the panic rise in her again as she sits in the downtown midwife clinic – McGrath’s, midwife service since the 28th century. It’s just not fair. She was supposed to start over, become someone else. Now she’s never going to be someone else, always just that trashy girl who can’t get her shit together and who keeps popping out kids with everyone she jumps into bed with.
It’s a clean, crisp sort of place. She feels too poor to be here but it’s the cheapest, nearest clinic and today she’s the only one here so at least she doesn’t have to be stared at by middle-class suburban wives and their stupid dogs.
“You seem to be about ten weeks pregnant,” the midwife tells her. Her voice is warm and low, reassuring. “Congratulations.”
Cindy manages a smile. “Yeah.”
The midwife can sense her doubts, she can tell as much when she’s being offered counselling and an appointment down at the abortion clinic, two offers that part of her wants to accept there and then. But other parts of her are telling her different things, making up different stories.
And when she tells Eric at long last, dread and nausea in her throat, he’s happy. Genuinely, heart-breakingly happy.