58: “You know, I’m not sure they were ever actually playing squash”

Helen was spending time at Christmas with both Walt and Nicholas’ families. She wasn’t really sure how that had happened. Things had kind of gotten away from her. She had meant to have plans because spending Christmas explaining to her Aunt Cathy how Evan had cheated on her and now she was single and living with her grandfather seemed like a special kind of hell. Aunt Cathy had been married twice and neither had worked out. The first time, she’d accidentally married a gay man. In her defense, she hadn’t known he was gay, though looking back at the photos, it should’ve been obvious. He wore a paisley shirt to their wedding. He hadn’t told her he was gay, though, and that probably would’ve been helpful. Instead, he ended up leaving her four years in for his squash partner.

“You know, I’m not sure they were ever actually playing squash,” Aunt Cathy had once admitted to Helen, who had thought that was fairly obvious. Aunt Cathy’s ex-husband didn’t even own a squash racquet. No one played squash every Thursday for three years and didn’t own their own equipment.

Aunt Cathy’s second marriage had been to a man named Carlos, who’d she met in Mexico on vacation. Carlos had one hundred per cent married her for the citizenship, not that Aunt Cathy realized that. Helen didn’t think she knew even now because, when she and Carlos had gotten divorced, ostensibly it was because he was also gay. Helen’s mother Mary said that her sister Cathy had the worst gaydar in the world. Helen thought she was probably just gullible. But more importantly, now she was bitter as hell and suspicious beyond all point of reason. From one extreme to the other, Aunt Cathy now thought that all men were scum and she was very concerned that Helen and her two sisters would also never find love, possibly unless it was by accident with a gay man, and that was no better. In any case, Helen didn’t want to add fuel to that particular fire so she was spending Christmas with both of her boyfriends.

She and Walt went to his family’s house for Christmas morning brunch. His parents were pompous, British, and just as smushed looking as Walt was. He had an older sister, who had the same teeth as he did, and both sets of his grandparents were there, also British and long-faced. Every single one of them was dull. Helen had never been so bored in her entire life. She suffered through a forty minute conversation with Walt’s sister about income tax. Helen couldn’t really relate because she didn’t have a job, though even if she did, she still didn’t think she’d be able to relate. She could basically feel her life ebbing away as she sat at their dining room table and prayed for all of it to end. She didn’t even care how that happened. At that point, she would gladly welcome death as sweet relief. Walt’s maternal grandmother had promised to show Helen her needlepoint later and Helen was really hoping she wouldn’t actually ever reach that point.

By the time she and Walt left, she was actively praying for death and simultaneously hoping that she would never have to see any of them ever again. That probably wasn’t a very good sign. They were an entire family of Fun Bobbies and she wanted no part of it. She would never be able to marry Walt because she wouldn’t be able to stand spending time with his relatives. Although, there were many reasons why she could never marry Walt. For one thing, their children would turn out looking like My Little Ponies. For another, he had a habit of kidnapping pigeons. And also he would have to be an alcoholic. She didn’t think she could stand to be around him for extended periods of time if he wasn’t always drunk and that didn’t really seem like the making of a healthy relationship. It certainly wasn’t a good solution for his liver.

Helen went to Christmas dinner with Nicholas’ family. It was being held at his older sister’s house. When they arrived, Helen was immediately stunned by the sheer size of her home. Nicholas had told Helen that his sister Leanne lived with her husband and three children. Initially, Helen had thought that three children was quite a few for someone so young to have. And then she realized that, since Nicholas was well into his forties, Leanne would have to be as well and that she’d very likely had her children at perfectly normal times throughout her life. Of course, she only came to this conclusion when she was standing in Leanne’s immense and gleaming foyer next to Nicholas, having been greeted at the door by Leanne’s adult son. His name was Thomas, he was very handsome, and he was twenty-five years old. Helen was better suited for him in age than she was for Nicholas, a fact that very clearly did not escape Leanne’s notice. She even brought it up a few times, laughing afterward as if to imply that she was merely joking, but it didn’t feel much like a joke.

The worst part was that Nicholas’ mother had had her children quite late in life, especially for the time as she explained to Helen, and so she was approximately the same age as Helen’s grandfather. When she was telling Jemima, Tallulah, and Priscilla that a couple days later, Jemima literally gasped at that particular piece of information.

“Well if that doesn’t throw the age difference into stark contrast, I don’t know what will,” Priscilla remarked. Helen couldn’t help but agree. She’d been thinking a lot about the age gap between herself and Nicholas ever since Christmas. Previously, she hadn’t felt that it mattered much. He was handsome and intelligent. He was well-established in life, though Priscilla assured her that was only because he was old. But his sister hadn’t seem thrilled and his mother was a full twenty years older than her own mother at least. When Helen was thirty, Nicholas would be seventy. When Helen was her mother’s age, he’d be dead. When she was as old as his mother, she would’ve been alone for years, puttering around her house thinking about what her life would’ve been like if she’d married Nicholas’ handsome nephew instead. She didn’t think that was a very good sign either.


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