It’s been a tumultuous, upsetting year.
Not all bad, of course, few things are exclusively bad or good and even a divorce as a consequence of betrayal can stir up some good things in its wake.
She’s had time to spend with her friends this past year. A lot of it, especially during the weekends when Ben has the kids and Petra is off work. A horrible combination she had thought at first but it didn’t take long before she found ways to appreciate the solitude and opportunites to just be Petra.
A Petra who might be a dumped single mother but who still knows how to have a good time. At least occasionally.
Cindy, Josie and Ada have been great to her recently, always stopping by and checking if she needs any help with the kids or calling her to invite her out. Both Timothy and Eric are happy to look after Amara and Novak if needed and it makes Petra miss family life.
Because no matter how many silver linings she’s trying to find, at the heart of it she’s a family person. She’d like another child, another little baby to enjoy properly this time without wondering and worrying about Ben’s state of mind and – later – his cheating.
And it’s the children that truly are her life, everything she does is for them.
Amara who’s five gets to see her dad more often because they can easily go out for an ice cream or a bit of adventure after her hours in school – the only good thing about Ben still being unemployed.
There are days when she doesn’t seem to want to go and Petra has figured out it’s because Amara thinks her mum will be sad if she leaves to see her dad. It’s heartbreaking and takes all of her momentum to explain carefully that Petra feels no such thing.
It’s not entirely true, of course, but she won’t admit that. She’s happy Ben has a good relationship with his children even if she still can’t stand him. So she smiles and tells Amara to have a great time with daddy.
Ben calls her a few times a month to chat. She thinks he sounds lonely and momentarily it can make something twist inside her, a little flicker of sympathy and then a shade of regret before she remembers last year and how it had crashed all over her.
He wants them to be friends, he says. She tells him she has friends.
Still, sometimes when he drops the kids off he lingers for a bit and Petra no longer feels that consuming hatred at the sight of him, no longer needs to count to ten – fifty – five hundred inside her head. These days he just seems like someone very distant, someone she barely even knows.
“Is there any chance at all that you might… that we could start over?” he asks once.
Petra pauses for a beat, turns the words over inside her mouth before they come out. There’s no hesitation in her voice, in her heart.
“No,” she says, simply. “No, Ben.”
The truth is that she doesn’t know him well enough for it. They have two children together, that much is true, but they hadn’t been involved for very long before that happened and there simply aren’t enough things about him in her memory that can outweigh what he’s done. Had they been together longer, perhaps. Had he been a solid presence in her past, someone who had seen her through the years, watched her successes and failures. If he had been more to her, she thinks and feels mean as the thought forms in her mind.
But it’s true.
All things considered, it’s a great summer. She tries to spend time out in the sun, gardening or just sunbathing when Novak takes his nap.
Ever since a disastrous Christmas party at the hospital, Petra has been making fast friends with one of the paediatricians that occasionally join them in the ambulance. His name is Rutger Lind and she would never have considered talking to him if it weren’t for the fact that he had saved her from an incredibly boring debate at that party.
In fact, she would have him pegged as an utterly boring, humourless and stuck-up doctor who considers himself above mere nurses and paramedics but as it turns out, he’s merely shy and introverted. Once you get to know him, though, he’s full of dark humour and dry observations about the world.
They spend a lot of evenings together as friends, having dinner and interacting with the kids. Rutger is over forty but has no family of his own and seems even more shy when she asks about it so she doesn’t. He claims he’s married to his job and while that might very well be true, he certainly seems to have enough time to spare considering how often he’s able to come over.
Amara adores him and his stories about medicine. She keeps asking about every illness she knows about and what they look like and what they do. Rutger appears to like answering because they talk all through supper and often past bedtime.
He often offers to babysit while Petra works night-shifts as well and she’s not one to turn down that sort of aid.
There’s really no need to hire a babysitter when Rutger not only cooks and bathes her children but also helps Amara with her homework. She claims she’s better than everyone her age at maths because of him.
By the end of the summer Petra feels pretty certain she could fall in love with Rutger with no effort at all, just by allowing herself another step closer, tip herself over the edge. He’s been growing into her life like a quiet, unassuming kind of joy that she’s actually never felt before and she suddenly can’t imagine this year without him. It would have turned out very differently, that much she knows.
When she tells him he looks at her for a long time and she momentarily regrets the move, half-expects him to confess that he’s already married to some secret wife or husband but then he smiles, very gently.
“I’ve never had a relationship before,” he says, softly. “It’s strange at my age, I know-”
“It’s not strange.”
“It’s a bit strange.” He smiles. “Scientifically speaking.”
Petra grins back at him. “Right. But I really don’t care. I’d like to try, if you don’t mind?”
“I really don’t.”
* Rutger is one of Timothy Jacobsen’s townie friends who attended the wedding. Since he’s in the medical career I thought he might as well have been Petra’s last minute wedding date. 🙂 We’ll see what happens to them. When they kissed, it turned out to be Rutger’s very first kiss. Unusual for my ACR-fuelled townies, heh.