As she usually did when he put his hands on her lower back, or on any part of her body, to be honest, Jess mentally stilled herself so that she did not pull away from him. She also battled to keep from scratching her skin as she began to feel as if she was breaking out in hives all over. Though she knew it was all in her mind, she looked down at her arm and saw that there was nothing to be seen, there was nothing crawling on her skin. She just really had to come to a place where she conquered these battles in her mind.
It never made sense to her that when other men touched her she never responded in this way. Sure Simon was not the only one who made her feel this way but why did he have to be one of them. How was she ever going to be able to meet her end of the duties of a wife when just the thought of him touching her in that way made her want to puke?
“Jess, are you going to answer that?”
Jess snapped out of thoughts and turned to look at everyone who was looking at her waiting for an answer. It was the last day of camp, the last hour even and everyone was just waiting to start their journey back home and they standing around having just finished their lunch.
“Sorry what? I got distracted for a moment,” she responded blushing even as she felt the judgmental looks she was receiving because she was ever distracted.
“Hmm, daydreaming as usual I see, I had just asked when you were finally planning to make an honest man of Simon, you guys are taking your time with the wedding ceremony and whole marriage bit,” Rue, one of the church’s deaconesses asked in tone that Jess deduced came from not liking being forced to have the repeat the question.
Everyone around them nodded and made sounds of agreement, including Simon, who was looking at her also waiting for an answer.
Jess felt more pressure than she usually felt whenever that question was directed at her and she looked around the people who were around her to see if she had any support but besides Ruth, who at that exact moment was looking down at the cup she was holding as if it held all the answers in the world, there was no one in this group of people who would ever support her on anything.
Jess scrambled to think of an excuse to give them because she realized that this time she was not going to be able to get out of answering the question. She would usually have mumbled a meaningless excuse and walked away because no one had ever asked her in a group setting like this, and certainly not in front of Simon and she was not prepared for the question now. Putting on a fake smile on her face she shrugged and responded in panic,
“Like I have told Simon before, I will let him know when I am ready,” she immediately knew that that was the wrong answer the moment it came out of her mouth and from the frowns of the people around, they thought so too.
It a really dumb response for someone who was surrounded by Simon loving people. They all had his back and that response was bound to make them hate her even more than she suspected they did already. Even Ruth was now looking at her with wide eyes obviously shocked at her response.
“Come on love,” Simon responded, laughing nervously, obviously not liking how she has answered that in front of his friends. “Come on guys, I told you that when we set the date I would…”
“Are you stringing him along,” Rue asked cutting Simon off.
Jess frowned at that question and turned her head up to look at Simon, stringing him along? Simon was the good guy, she would never do such a thing.
“No I am not stringing him along, why would I do that?” She asked, seriously confused. In her mind, it was an honor that he wanted to marry her at all. She just wasn’t ready and had to work through some stuff, like the fact that she didn’t like it when he touched her.
Not that she didn’t like it or want it…well yes she didn’t like it but not because she didn’t want it. It was that stupid mental block and fear of being touched that was in her mind. There were other people who could touch her and it didn’t affect her, she just had to work at putting him in that list of people.
“So why aren’t married already? What is the hold-up?” Rue pressed in breaking Jess’ train of thought.
Jess rummaged through her brain trying to figure out what to say because she definitely could not tell them about the touching thing, she wasn’t even honest with Ruth about that though she suspected her best-friend suspected.
“She is job hunting,” Ruth spoke up on her behalf causing Jess to look at her with gratefulness.
“So, what does that have to do with anything?” Rue asked frowning.
“You are in a good place financially Rue but Jess isn’t, she can’t afford a wedding right now. And who wants to start a marriage by getting into debt, I certainly don’t,” Ruth answered.
And before Rue could ask Ruth another question, Jess decided to intervene because she knew her friend was probably uncomfortable. This wasn’t Ruth’s battle anyway, it was hers.
“Yes, that’s true, I mean I know Simon is working but I am not about to saddle either him or my parents with the whole cost of the wedding,” she said.” I mean Dave could probably help but I don’t want that either. I need to be able to pay my own way,”
Mentioned Dave’s name in this crowd was also a risk because she knew that he wasn’t exactly their favorite person when it came to her relationship with Simon.
“But Jess, you know the economy is not very good right now, how long are you going to wait,” Simba, Simon’s best friend who was also there asked.
“Uh, yeah, especially with your very unconventional degree,” Rue added, obviously not giving up.
“Uh Rue, you might want her to find a job first, I mean imagine if Simon has to then take care her kids on her on his own, she does come with a ready-made family and she needs to be able to provide for them,” Destiny, another friend of Simon chimed in.
“Hey Dae, lay off on that, once we are married, her children would be my kids and will take care of them as any father would his children,” Simon admonished his friend as he put his arm around Jess and pulled her into a half hug before letting her go.
The pain Jess felt in those fleeting moments when he hugged her to try to comfort her made Jess cringe her teeth. Simon was such a good loving guy, he was the best; should she even be planning on marrying him right now? And to prove further what an awesome guy he was, he changed the topic and had the group talking about things, turning away the attention from her. She could still feel Rue and Destiny’s eyes on her though and she just wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole.
She was kind of glad that today was the last day of the camp and that there would be no more interacting with these people for what felt like 24/7 even if she was getting a few hours in between. Simon put his hand on her back again as they started to walk away from the table and this time she could not help but shiver, she couldn’t keep the reaction in as she had been distracted by the thoughts in her head.
“Hey, you feeling cold?” Simon asked when he felt her shiver.
Smiling at him, she shook her head but when she looked towards Ruth hoping her friend hadn’t seen, she found not just Ruth looking at her suspiciously but Simba as well. She smiled nervously at both of them, then followed Simon who seemed to have been saying goodbye to everyone else and was pulling her in a different direction. Figuring out quickly that they were heading towards his car, she tried to turn around to call for Ruth but Simba quickly told her that he would be giving Ruth and some other girls a ride back to Harare to give Simon and her an opportunity to spend time together on the ride back.
Jess held in a deep sigh because she always avoided spending more than 2 hours max alone with Simon, and those 2 hours usually involved attention-grabbing activities that made sure she wouldn’t have to talk to him for long periods of time. The idea of spending a four-hour drive alone with him did not make her happy at all but what was she going to do. Refusing and insisting Ruth come with them would cause too much suspicion so she went along with it. She braced herself though for the conversation they are about to have.
The journey started with light conversation as they talked about the camp but it was 5minutes in when the question she dreaded the most came.
“Is the job really the only reason you don’t want to marry me yet?”
There was a brief moment of silence as she tried to figure out what to say before he spoke again.
“I mean Jess, I don’t mean to pressure you but if there was something going on you would tell me right? You aren’t having second thoughts about us are you?” Simon asked.
“Second thoughts? Is this about Rue’s comment on stringing you along?”
“No Jess, though she was asking some important questions and you couldn’t even answer her. You have never told me about this job thing so I don’t think its the reason, that was just Ruth sticking out for her best friend. She seems to do that a lot…and don’t get me wrong, I love that you have a friend who will always be there for you to defend you but Jess…why won’t you set a date? And I mean the question this time, you just can’t keep telling me that you will let me know when you are ready, what are you trying to get ready for?”
Jess felt really bad when she heard the pain in his voice, Simon was a good guy, he was the only innocent in this and she hated causing him pain. What could she really give him if she married? Deciding to be a little bit honest at the moment, she decided not to stop her tears from falling and she looked at him and responded,
“Well I wasn’t having second thoughts before but now I definitely am. I mean, I can hear the pain in your voice and I am causing that pain. Simon, what are you going to get from a marriage with me? I am incomplete, a marriage is made of two complete people, not one and a half. What if all I ever do is cause you pain?”
“One and a half…Jess what are you talking about, why would you call yourself incomplete?”
“Because Simon I sinned against God, I am not perfect. I have children, three of them and you are going to be having to take care of my children. How is that fair to you?”
“But Jess isn’t that my choice to make, I love the triplets, they are adorable. And we have all sinned, I am not a perfect man.”
“Yeah well, you know what they say about people like me in the church, you are going to be carrying my stigma for the rest of your life,” she responded hating the anguish in his voice.
“I can’t take back what I did Simon, I cannot change my past,” she shouted leaving no room for an argument.
“Well where does this leave us now then, because you are being unreasonable right now,” he said quietly though she could still hear the frustration in his voice.
Taking a deep breath, she wiped away her tears and thought for a moment. Could she give Simon up, even with all these thoughts of inadequacy were running in her mind? No, she couldn’t, he was the only good thing in her life. He was her only chance at redemption, even if it cost him a lot.
“I am not stringing you along, I just need to deal with these emotions and I need you to give me the opportunity to do that. When I feel less like every word that comes out of my mouth is going to hurt you, then maybe we can talk about a date for the wedding.”
The rest of the journey looked like it was going to be quite uncomfortable as Simon did not respond, instead, he turned on the radio and drove in silence.