To say that things were awkward after the wedding, would be a massive understatement.
I could barely be in the same room with John anymore. I felt like I was nineteen again, trying so desperately to avoid him and to forget the feelings I had, and at the same time, trying not to appear as though I was doing either one.
Just like back then, every day that went by, I tried to move passed those traitorous feelings but would only succeed in having them grow stronger. Only now, my guilt grew right along with them, thinking about what a poor excuse for a wife I was.
Beyond all the conflicting feelings, I was utterly confused. How could I even be having these feelings toward John when I still loved Andrew with all my heart and mourned his loss every single day?
I suppose it had to do with the fact that I was lonely. It had been eight months since I learned of Andrew's death. He was gone nearly four months before that. And after almost twenty years of marriage, I guess it wasn't that far-fetched that I was feeling lonely.
Still, I couldn't ignore that this was almost exactly the way things happened before, nor could I forget the disastrous way it all turned out. I wouldn't let that happen again.
Even while I was helping out at the ranch, it was fairly easy to avoid John during the week. He worked so much and since Emily finished school, she'd taken over helping Mrs. Abbot with meals. I could eat an early lunch most days, claiming I had other things to do and keeping out of sight entirely when the men were around.
It was days like today that were the hardest. Before I even moved back in with Julia and Daniel, we had started the tradition of having a big family day on Sundays. Everyone would come over after church and stay through dinner.
The past few Sundays had been very taxing. I couldn't avoid the table the way I could at the ranch. And it wasn't that big of a house. There were only so many rooms I could excuse myself to without being obvious to the fact that I was avoiding someone. Having to keep coming up with excuses to leave whenever John entered a room was becoming tiring. Not to mention, I was running out of plausible excuses.
But it was almost painful to be in the same room with him. Those old feelings along with all the fresh guilt would bombard me, making it difficult to focus on anything. Inevitably we would make eye contact and I could tell that he was experiencing at least some of the things I was. Which made it even harder.
Luckily the few times during the day that I usually didn't have to think about it, was when I was helping Julia prepare meals.
I allowed the children to play and Emily to relax and talk with Marianne, and so it was just Julia and I in the kitchen, which the men all avoided like the plague for fear that we would ask them to do dishes or some other "woman's" chore.
It was nice having the time alone with her. Especially since I could relax for a little while and not worry about John.
"I think I'll try planting some basil later," I told Julia as I came back into the kitchen admiring the handful of parsley I'd grown in the small planter on the back porch.
"The parsley is coming in nicely and there's plenty for-" I stopped noticing that Julia was no longer alone. John leaned against the counter, looking serious.
"Oh." I stood awkwardly in the doorway for a few seconds, flushing and averting my eyes. I wished I could turn right back around, but it was too late. I had no real reason to leave the room after just arriving. It would only make Julia wonder.
"Go ahead. I don't want to interrupt," I said, knowing that I was acting oddly anyway.
Grateful that I had something to do at the moment, I went to the sink to wash the plants in my hands, wishing that the warmth would recede from my face and neck.
I also wished that it wasn't so dreadfully quiet in this kitchen. Why wasn't Julia talking? She was never this quiet. I was sure they must have been talking before I came back.
When I reluctantly turned around, I caught the unsettling look in John's eyes. I couldn't quite figure out what he was thinking, but it still sent those unwelcome feelings flooding through me.
I glanced at Julia, who was pretending not to notice the tension and shooting her own uncomfortable looks in my direction.
I forced an awkward smile before I went to the table to busy my hands and avoid looking at either of them.
"I, uh, need to go check something at the ranch," John said after a minute, making me glance up curiously. He never worked on Sundays.
"Larry's sick so I told him to take it easy for a few days," he continued. "I'll be back for supper though."
I tried to ignore the fact that I was pretty sure John wasn't being honest. Larry seemed just fine yesterday.
But could I really blame him? Wasn't I basically doing the same thing? He just had a better excuse than I did.
"You won't even have lunch first?" Julia tried.
He shook his head. "I really need to go now."
"Well...alright," Julia uncharacteristically gave in. "I suppose if you have to."
"I won't be too long. Save me some of that pie." He smiled and nodded at the cherry pie she was putting the finishing touches on. It was John's favorite.
"Would I do anything else?" She laughed.
A minute later, John was gone and I could breathe again. But when I glanced at Julia, she was still giving me that look.
"What?" Maybe if I pretended to be ignorant, she would let this go.
She raised an eyebrow before going to put the pie in the oven.
Hoping she wouldn't say anything, I focused intently on the vegetables in front of me.
"Kathryn, look at me." Julia was now facing me on the opposite side of the table and I dreaded meeting her eyes. Obviously she knew what I was thinking. She always did. That little moment with John told her everything. I didn't have a hope of lying to her either. She always saw right through it.
"Kathryn," she pushed when I didn't respond right away.
I felt like a child again, about to be scolded for something I'd done.
I hesitantly looked up and was surprised to see a smile on her face.
"Honey, you never were very good at hiding your feelings from me."
I couldn't find the energy to return her smile. I wasn't even sure how she could look happy. Didn't she understand what this meant?
"I'm sorry. I..." I glanced away.
"Why on earth are you sorry?" she asked making me quickly look back. Was she serious?
"It's never wrong to love someone, Kathryn," she smiled.
I stared at her, speechless. Julia was one of the only people in the world who knew the truth. I shouldn't have to explain this to her.
"But I...we..." I stuttered.
"It's only wrong to act on that love sometimes," she said, looking more serious. "Twenty years ago, it was wrong." She shook her head. "But it's not wrong now. Things are different."
I dropped my eyes, thinking about what was different. Jenny and Andrew weren't here to know that we were betraying them.
"Do you remember what you said to me after your father died?" She regained my attention.
I did remember, but I didn't answer.
"You said that your father would want me to be happy," she said. "That he wouldn't want me to be alone forever. Do you still feel that way?"
I nodded. Of course Papa wouldn't begrudge Julia her happiness now. But she and Daniel didn't have the history that John and I had.
"I needed that prodding, Kathryn. Because even though I knew your father would want me to be happy, I felt like I'd be betraying him if I thought of marrying again. And you know that isn't the case. I still love your father and I think about him every day. But...he can't be here for me the way Daniel can. He would have understood that."
"I know, but...Andrew would...John is..." I couldn't think of what to say. The situation was entirely different from Julia and Daniel. It had taken Andrew a very long time to trust John and I together. With good reason.
"Andrew loved you and he would want you to be happy."
I just looked at her wondering if he would really want that. I knew he would want me to be able to be happy again, but it was the part about John that made me wonder.
As usual, Julia knew exactly where my mind was.
"Andrew always knew you loved John," she said. "Did he ever despise you for it? Did he ever despise John?"
"No." Maybe that's what made this so hard. Like anyone would have been, Andrew was jealous when I couldn't seem to get over my feelings for John when we were younger, but he never resented either one of us for it. Even after I had Thomas.
"If John had picked you all those years ago, would he have despised you then?"
"No, he would have..." I trailed off, realizing that she was right. He wouldn't have felt betrayed then and he wouldn't feel that way now.
"He would have wanted you to be happy," she finished for me. "Even if he wasn't the one who could make you happy."
I stared at her, baffled. Could Andrew really want this? Would he want me to move on?
"You were always a good wife to Andrew. No one could question your love for him," Julia continued. "You and John made a mistake all those years ago. But you owned up to it and after that, John was the kind of husband that Jenny deserved. They had a good marriage."
"Jenny..." I shook my head, feeling a renewed sense of guilt. Andrew might have been noble enough to step aside if I'd wanted him to, but Jenny wasn't Andrew.
"Jenny loved you both and would want you to be happy."
Julia laughed at my disbelieving expression.
"She might want us both to be happy, but I have a hard time believing that she would want John to ever marry again."
"If it was anyone else, I'd have to agree with you." She smiled and got that far away look in her eye. "Jenny loved you. I know she felt...badly about everything. She wouldn't have wanted John to have picked you instead, but...if there was some way for you to have been happy too, I know she would have wanted it."
I nodded and had to wipe away the sudden moisture from my eyes. Jenny told me as much more than once.
"Besides, her children still need a mother," she said. "And I'm sure she'd rather it be you than anyone in the world."
I suppose that was true too, but that reminded me of yet another problem.
"The children," I said feeling dazed. "How would they..."
"The children already love each other and fight like siblings." She smiled.
I laughed, knowing that was certainly the truth. But how would they feel about actually being siblings? About John and I...
"Maybe this is exactly what they need." She said, surprising me. "They've all had so many changes and hardships. Maybe this is the way for them to have some closure and real stability."
I dropped my eyes to the table, feeling an unusual freedom. I couldn't think of any more excuses. Julia had discredited them all.
After everything that happened, could it really be okay for John and I to be together? I'd given up on that idea a lifetime ago. And after I married Andrew, I'd never regretted it even once. But suddenly knowing that we might have a real chance, gave me the first truly happy feeling I'd had in over a year.
I looked up at Julia, finally able to return her smile.
"Stop it!" Victoria shrieked, coming into the kitchen. She rushed over to me, her anger quickly melting into concern when she met my eyes.
"Are you sad, Mama?" She reached for my face. I hadn't realized it was wet with tears.
I smiled down at her and wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand. "No, Sweetie. I'm not."
She blinked, looking surprised and smiled slightly. There hadn't been many times over the passed months when I wasn't sad.
"What's wrong?" I reminded her that she'd been upset a minute ago.
"Ruby keeps copying me," she complained, remembering why she'd come in here. "I keep telling her to stop and she wont!"
I couldn't help the laugh that escaped my lips. I glanced at Julia who was smirking at the illustration that Victoria just provided, showing how sisterly she and Ruby were. Jenny used to do the exact same thing to me. Like Victoria it always succeeded in driving me insane.
When I looked back at Victoria, she seemed torn between being insulted that I was laughing at her, and being happy that I was laughing at anything.
"I'm sorry, Honey. I'm not laughing at you," I assured her. "But you know, Ruby's only doing it because you're making it fun for her." It had taken me an eternity to figure that out about Jenny.
"But I'm not doing anything!" She protested. "I'm just-"
"I know," I said. "But if you stop talking for a little while, she'll get bored and find something else to do."
Victoria clearly didn't like the idea of having to sit quietly until Ruby got bored. I suppose it did sound like a punishment though.
"I think you left your book by the fireplace," I hinted, drawing a grin from Victoria. She loved getting lost in her stories. Ruby, however, hated reading and would no doubt only last a minute or two with her game once Victoria pulled out a book.
With a nod and a gleam in her eye, Victoria scampered back out to the living room. When I turned to Julia, she was wearing an expectant smile.
"What?" I asked, confused and a little nervous.
"Go to him, Kathryn." She took the carrot from my hand.
"What?" I asked again, feeling my stomach drop. I'd only just gotten over the revelation that John and I could be together. I hadn't thought about the practical side of actually talking to him. The idea terrified me. I was a little girl again, in love with John and afraid to say a word to him about it.
How did I even know he felt the same? I'd always loved John. It had changed over the years, and while I was married to Andrew it wasn't the romantic kind. But the love for him was always there in one form or another. And now that I was facing this situation, I was less sure about his feelings.
I knew he loved me too. Before. But how did I even know I didn't imagine everything over the past few weeks? Maybe I'd only imagined that look in his eyes while we were dancing. Maybe he was only reacting to the awkward way I'd behaved since then. I wasn't sure of anything. What if I was assuming all the wrong things?
"You need to go tell him how you feel." Julia pried my hands from the edges of the table I'd gripped in the absence of the carrot.
"Why?" I was too stunned to resist when she lead me away from the table and wiped my hands with her apron.
She gave me a knowing look, calling me on my cowardice.
"He can just-"
"He won't do anything of the sort, and you know it. Can you blame him the way you've been acting like he has the plague lately?"
I cringed. I hadn't realized that Julia noticed anything before today.
She smiled and cupped my cheek. "Go to him."
"I don't know if he even...feels the same." I admitted, blushing. "What if I'm making a terrible mistake?"
"He does." She looked so confident.
"How do you know?"
"John's always loved you," she said. "But like you, he put those feelings away because it was the right thing to do."
"But, I don't know that he-"
"Why do you think he's never married again?"
I had no answer for that. I'd wondered that same thing many times over the years. He certainly had the opportunity with more than a few women that I know had their eye on him. And he did have the children. Emily and Matthew were older now, but Ruby still needed a mother. Not to mention the need for someone at the ranch. He didn't like Mrs. Abbott any more than I did.
"John was never meant to be alone, I think," she said. "But he was willing to if he couldn't be with the person he loved."
I was speechless and Julia took the opportunity to lead me to the back door.
"But I'm too old for this!" I tried in a last ditch effort to make her see why this was such a bad idea. I was not twenty anymore. I had children to think about. I couldn't be throwing myself at John like a lovesick school girl.
"You are younger than I was when I married Daniel." She put her hands on her hips. "And I remember you telling me, quite emphatically that I wasn't old."
She opened the door and nudged me out into the warm summer afternoon.
"Now go." It wasn't a request this time. She was ready to lock me out of the house to get me moving.
I stood on the doorstep, watching her pitifully. Maybe if I didn't go, she'd change her mind and leave me alone.
She grinned diabolically before she closed the door in my face.
To say that things were awkward after the wedding, would be a massive understatement.