Jemima was beginning to suspect that she and Noel were not in fact in a complex and vague, yet loving relationship together. Their weekend away to Amanda’s engagement party had not provided the clarity she’d been hoping for. They hadn’t been out together since and it had been two weeks. They spoke at work, but she also frequently spoke to Jacklyn at work so she wasn’t sure it counted. Besides which, all of the times they’d actually gone out together she couldn’t classify as actual dates with any real confidence.
But then, at lunch one day, he sat with her and Jacklyn and began asking probing questions about Sybil. He wanted to know if she was seeing anybody apropos of nothing. Jemima knew Sybil and Chris were working with Noel on his band’s debut album, but his line of questioning had taken a definitively personal air. Jacklyn frowned at Noel the entire time it was happening. She was very suspicious by nature. In the end, it was her that got to the root of the issue.
“Are you interested in Sybil then?” She asked directly. Jemima held her breath, amazed at Jacklyn’s brazenness and both interested and uninterested in the answer.
“Well, we kissed once, but she’s been a little distant since that,” he admitted casually, leaning back in his seat, legs crossed. He was wearing suede pants, which was a bold choice that Jemima rather thought he was pulling off. She felt a little ill. She spent the rest of lunch quietly eating her food and praying for time to move faster. Jacklyn kept shooting her knowing looks, as if implying that she’d known all along that Sybil was a terrible person who would make out with the love of Jemima’s life. While Jemima was disinclined to believe that Sybil was a horrible person, she was a little confused and hurt by the fact that she was supposedly kissing Noel behind her back. It wasn’t as if Jemima had ever bothered to hide her infatuation with Noel.
“See? This is why I don’t like her,” Jacklyn hissed triumphantly to Jemima as they left the break room after lunch and made their way back to their desks. Jemima considered pointing out that it wasn’t in fact why she didn’t like Sybil, but her desire to stop talking about it prevented her from actually saying anything.
That night, Jemima made the trek to Sybil’s apartment to confront her about Noel. Although, Jemima wasn’t a very confrontational person by nature, so it was more of a chance for Sybil to explain herself. Jemima wasn’t sure what she was hoping to hear or what she would do if she heard what she expected she would hear; that Sybil had fallen in love with Noel, that she wanted to be with him forever, that she was sorry, but she was in love. Jemima recited in her head what she wanted to say to Sybil when she reached her apartment the entire way there. Of course, all that flew by the wayside when she actually arrived at Sybil’s apartment was greeted at the door by Chris instead.
“Sybil’s in the bathroom,” he informed Jemima, stepping aside to let her into the apartment beyond. Jemima wondered how much time the two of them spent together as she kicked off her shoes and wandered into the living room. Surely Noel wouldn’t like that very much. Even though Jemima was upset that she wouldn’t get Noel for herself, she felt oddly protective of him, like she thought Sybil was doing him wrong by spending so much time with her co-worker.
Sybil had a very nice one-bedroom apartment that she could afford because she made good money, she was frugal and sensible, and her father gave her money in an effort to make her like him better than her step-father. Since her apartment had flooded, Sybil had had to replace her couch. The new one she’d bought was a grey-blue sectional with a chaise at one end. It went very well with her cool, modern décor. She had a white and black subway tile backsplash in her kitchen. Her appliances were a gleaming stainless steel. Jemima could see into Sybil’s bedroom through the partially open door. She had made her bed.
Chris slumped down on the new couch and Jemima remained awkwardly standing on the periphery of the living room, uncomfortable in his presence, dreading the conversation she had come to have. He shot her a questioning look over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised, but that seemed all the effort he was willing to extend to her awkward existence. He turned his attention to his phone instead. That was how Sybil found them when she exited the bathroom; Jemima shifting her weight uncomfortably just to the right of the couch and Chris ignoring her.
“Oh, hey,” she greeted Jemima, smiling kindly. Jemima lost even more of her nerve. “I didn’t know you were here.”
At that, Sybil smacked Chris in the head as she walked past the couch to get to the kitchen. Chris grunted, but said nothing. Jemima followed after Sybil, unwilling to be left alone with Chris again.
“What’s up?” Sybil asked, reaching for the fridge. “Want something to drink?”
Jemima didn’t answer.
“I was talking to Noel today,” she said instead. Sybil’s expression was pure guilt. Jemima could sense the explanation coming, the declaration of true love and the insincere apologies. It obviously was what she had feared the most. Jacklyn had been right after all. She’d be so smug.
“So it’s true?” Jemima said when Sybil didn’t offer anything. “You kissed him?”
“What?” Sybil replied, looking genuinely taken aback. “No! He kissed me at some gross bar after the Homegrown music festival. You can ask Chris if you want, he was there too. I danced away from him, which I’m sure looked super natural, and I’ve been avoiding him ever since. That’s been a challenge since I work with him.”
Jemima wasn’t sure what she was meant to believe. She didn’t know how she felt. She wanted to believe Sybil, but she had looked so guilty when Jemima had first brought it up.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it was important,” Sybil continued. She must’ve seen the anger on Jemima’s face because she explained further. “I mean, obviously it wasn’t unimportant. I just mean that I didn’t think it was going to be a thing. Like, I don’t want it to be a thing and he was drunk when it happened. So I figured that it could’ve been a one-time thing. And if it was a one-time thing and you two ended up getting together later, I didn’t want you to be upset that he had once drunkenly kissed me in a bar. I didn’t want to ruin anything for you. I now kind of get the sense that I may have ruined it for you anyway.”
Jemima stared at her for a long time, trying to suss out if she was telling the truth. Sybil looked uncomfortable for the first time since Jemima had known her.
“Also I really didn’t want to talk about it,” she admitted sheepishly after a long, tense moment wherein Jemima said nothing. At that point, Jemima was convinced she was telling the truth. It was a pretty candid thing to say and definitely something Sybil would feel. Jemima slumped down into one of the white chairs at Sybil’s small kitchen table and sighed.
“He wants to go out with you,” she told Sybil dejectedly. Sybil didn’t say anything, clearly unsure of what to say. Jemima could appreciate that she was in a weird position, stuck between trying to apologize for something she didn’t do and also for the feelings of someone else, over which she had no control. Jemima was upset about it, she wouldn’t lie about that, but she was relieved that Sybil was essentially blameless. She liked Sybil, they were friends, she didn’t want to have to be upset with her as well.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Chris announced, walking into the kitchen completely unaware of what he was interrupting. “And I’m going to sleep on your couch tonight. My downstairs neighbour’s guitar playing has not improved. I don’t care if music is helping her get over the death of her husband because it is killing me.”
Jemima looked at him, stunned, then over to Sybil for explanation. Sybil only shook her head dismissively.
“Cool skirt,” Chris said to Jemima, joining her at the table. She was wearing her Mennonite skirt. Jemima felt okay for the first time that day. Sybil nodded solemnly in agreement. Then she too joined them at the table, sitting in the chair between the pair of them so that they formed a semi-circle, none of them quite facing another. She patted Jemima on the head. Somewhere along the line, it turned into her petting Jemima as Chris complained about how terrible his neighbour was at playing Beatles covers. It was oddly soothing.
The next day, Jemima went to work with her head held high, determined not to let her failed romance with Noel get her down. To be fair, she supposed it wasn’t so much a failed romance as it was a complete non-starter. Nevertheless, she was determined to be positive. Jacklyn greeted her at her desk about an hour into the day, offering her a mug of tea and a sympathetic smile.
“I spoke to Sybil last night and it wasn’t her fault,” Jemima told Jacklyn, whose expression made it very clear that she did not think that was remotely true. Jemima let her think what she wanted though because she knew the truth. Sybil had ended up braiding her hair into two, long reverse French braids that she was still wearing that day. Sybil was emotionally detached, but still kind. She was also ridiculously good at braiding.