I glanced around the bistro. It overflowed with the lunch crowd, people talking, laughing, sharing good company, enjoying good food. Coffee, strong and rich wafted past our table. I loved the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. But today it just made me feel sick. I felt my lips tug down at the corners and I pressed my fingers hard to still the tremble. A dull awareness pressed down – forever on the outside looking in.

Very slowly, I let my eyes settle on my mom’s face. Familiar. Safe. A face filled with love…a face tight with worry. Worry for me. I hated that I was the cause of the grooves between her brows.

“What is it, Honey?” Mom’s warm fingers tightened round my cold ones.  “Maisie, you’re scaring me.”

Another moment slipped away before I found my voice, “Mom, I have to tell you something…but…I’m afraid…” I stared down at our hands, the sound of chatter fading away, the hammer of my heart drowning out the clink of silverware.

“You can tell me anything. You know that. Are you okay? You’re not sick are you?” Her words rushed together, her voice rising slightly.

“No.  No, Mom, I’m fine. I…it’s…well I just don’t want you to worry about me anymore.” My voice broke and I grabbed my lower lip between my teeth. I closed my eyes for a moment then started again before I could lose my courage. “You know when you said I need someone to love me?” My words jumbled together with urgency.

Mom nodded, confusion drawing her features together.

“Mom…I have someone to love me.” The tears started then, sliding down my cheeks in a hot river of release. I waited, watching her face. “I have someone,” I whispered, feeling a tear drip from my cheek.

Her face slowly relaxed and she settled back for a moment. A mix of emotion played across her face and I saw her grasp for understanding before she leaned in close and trapped my eyes with hers, “Who is it?”

I glanced past her to the window, absorbing the carefree scene of people strolling beneath shimmering waves of sunlight, their laughter reaching my ears. I scrubbed at fresh tears with my sleeve. “I think you know,” I managed.

A long moment of silence stretched and I stared down at my plate. Tears dripped onto my untouched quiche.

“Is it Jess?”

I found Mom’s eyes and I searched their hazel depths. For what, I’m not sure. But the thing I feared most – the judgement – was not there. Instead I saw love, acceptance.

Love.

Slowly, I nodded. “Yes,” was all I managed before the crying started hard. Mom held me.

And that was it. With Mom’s three little words, I was free. Free.

Yes! Yes, I was in love with Jess! And she loved me – Maisie!

I let go a long, shaky breath.

But wait. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t free. Far from it.

Now I had to tell my children. But how could I possibly explain something I couldn’t understand myself? How could I do this to them? My loves. My heart.

And like a crumbling leaf, twirling an unhurried waltz-of-death to the ground, the dark despair settled over me again.

God damn. My kids.

“Maisie, you have to tell those kids!” Mom said, reading my mind. “You have to tell them before they find out from someone else!”

“I know, Mom. God. I know,” I whispered through my fingers.

I leaned into her, my face pressed to her shoulder. I felt the stares of the restaurant patrons but I was so past caring. As bad as I felt, it felt so good to let go. So good. So many years of keeping it all in. So many years of trying to hold it together.

Twenty years to be exact.

God, twenty years.

You see, I had way bigger problems than realizing I was in love with a woman. I was married to a man. And I had three children. And for almost twenty years I had lived next door to Jess’s grandparents, trying very hard to be a happily married woman living the White Picket Fence life.

But something inside of me had shifted and with an awkward leap, I had hurdled over the sharp pickets of that fence. And I knew – in my heart – there was no going back.

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