She rolled her eyes. “It’s the twenty-first century. You don’t need marriage to raise a child.” She turned her attention to me. “What I don’t understand is why you’re offering to marry her out of duty instead of just telling Bella that you love her.”
I choked. “How do you know it’s Bella?”
“One, because you invited her to Lily’s party—”
“You did that.”
“And two, Lily says she saw you kiss Bella when she left.”
“Bella?” Jim looked at his wife. “She’s half his age.”
“Jim, stop being such a fuddy-duddy. Bella is a smart, attractive woman. And she’s an adult.” She turned to me. “So, why don’t you tell her how you feel?”
I wasn’t sure what was stranger; Patsy not being upset about my relationship with Bella, or her insisting I was in love with her.
“I care about her, but I don’t love her. Joanna was it for me.”
Patsy’s eyes turned soft and started to water. “Honey, no one doubts your love for Joanna. But she’s gone.”
I stood, not wanting to talk to my in-laws about Joanna being gone.
“Blake. She’d be thrilled about you and Bella and even the baby.”
“Stop.” I wanted to put my hands over my ears so I didn’t have to listen to this, which was ridiculous.
“Why? You know it’s true. She told you so herself.” Patsy stood and came over to me. “What’s really going on here, Blake?”
“Joanna was my world. Now Lily is my world. That’s all I want. All I need.”
“Then why were you sleeping with Bella?” she asked, her tone more forceful.
“A man’s got needs, Patsy,” Jim said.
She glared at Jim before turning to me. “He’s right, but you’ve spent the last few years denying your needs. And I don’t mean just your physical ones, Blake. You’re afraid to love. You’re afraid to live. You’ve passed that on to Lily—”
I whirled on her. “Don’t you dare say that Lily doesn’t live!”
She didn’t flinch. “You’re a wonderful father, Blake, but she takes her cues from you.” She pressed her palms to my cheeks. “I love you, Blake. I love how you loved my daughter. Her life was short, but it was filled with more love than most people have in a lifetime. She’d hate to see you like this.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me.” I pulled away.
“You have so much love in you still Blake. Why aren’t you giving it?”
“Maybe Bella doesn’t want it,” Jim suggested.
“I doubt that,” Patsy said. “A woman doesn’t go to a child’s birthday party or spend time with a man and his daughter unless she feels something for him.”
“It wasn’t like that between us.” I went to the window, hating the confusing whirl of emotions Patsy was rousing in me.
Patsy laughed. “Oh honey, you can tell yourself that, but it’s not true.”
I bit the inside of my lip holding back a roar of anger.
“For the last few years, you’ve avoided women, didn’t need their companionship or touch.”
Jesus, was my mother-in-law going to talk to me about sex?
“You can’t tell me that the one woman you finally gave in to doesn’t mean anything to you.”
“I didn’t say she meant nothing. I just don’t love her. Not like Joanna.”
“Well of course not like Joanna. We love everyone differently. My love for Jim is different than my love for you and Lily, but it’s still just as intense. And it’s necessary to my happiness. Loving Bella doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten Joanna.”
I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes until Patsy wiped one away.
“I betrayed her.”
“No, honey. You honor her when you live. When you share what’s in this big heart of yours.” Patsy patted my chest.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. “I don’t think I can.”
“Because you’re afraid of losing someone again?” Patsy gently asked.
The clarity her words brought was like a hit on the head. Had I been using the idea that I’d betrayed my wife as a way to avoid living and loving? The idea of losing someone I loved again was something I couldn’t bear. How would I survive it? Surely, it was better to avoid that type of love.
“Losing Joanna devastated us all. But if we lived in fear of that loss again, we wouldn’t be good grandparents to Lily or surrogate parents to you.”
I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes, trying to force myself to get my shit together.
“Blake.” Patsy took my hands in hers. “Do you love Bella?”
“She’s great with Lily.”
“That’s not what I asked. How do you feel about her?”
I bit my lip, afraid the truth would come out. “I think she’s amazing. Smart, sweet…”
“Blake. How did it feel when she turned your marriage idea down?”
“Like a knife through my heart.”
“Well if that’s not love, I don’t know what is,” Jim said.
Patsy smiled and pulled me in her arms. She didn’t say any more, but she didn’t have to. She helped me see what I was doing wrong and now had given me a path, and permission, to move forward.