Sex with Josh wasn't any better than it had been the first time Jessica had dated him, and it wasn't any better than sex with Helen had been.
"What is the matter with you?" Josh asked one night, and Jessica decided to dump him. She wasn't entirely sure why they were still together. She'd say she enjoyed his company-like she enjoyed Helen's-but he was really kind of a jerk sometimes.
"Nothing's wrong with me," she said, though she wasn't convinced of the truth of that herself.
"Yeah? You sure you're not actually a lesbian?
"I'm not attracted to women," Jessica said softly.
"You're not attracted to me either," Josh said.
"Hey. What's up?" Helen asked after answering her cell.
"I broke up with Josh," Jessica said. Helen didn't think she sounded very upset about it.
"About time," Helen said. "Onto new and wilder pastures, right?"
"That's the thing. I think." Now Jessica did sound worried. "It was the same problem I had with you."
Helen let herself raise an eyebrow because Jessica wouldn't see it and it allowed her to channel more concern into her voice. "Why don't we talk about this over coffee?"
Helen could hear Jessica pull herself together a little more. "Coffee sounds good," Jessica said.
"Great. What coffee places are you near?"
"I can be there in fifteen minutes." Unless traffic was fantastic it would be more like twenty, but Helen saw no fault in being optimistic.
"You enjoy sex," Helen said, not quite a question, and she could see Jessica fight not to tell her to keep her voice down.
"I guess? I mean, yes, but. I always get the impression it's better for other people. Most of the time I'd rather just read a book."
"Or have cake?" Helen asked softly.
"Hmmn?" Jessica murmured around her mouthful of coffee.
"So you don't feel any sexual attraction," Helen asked.
"I don't know," Jessica said. "I don't know what other people feel when they say they feel sexually attracted to someone. It's not like I have a problem with sex or anything."
"You warmed up to it." Helen smiled in remembrance and wrapped her hands around her cup.
Jessica shrugged. "Before you I'd never really..." She trailed off.
"Thought about having sex with a woman?" Helen said. She didn't think that's what it was, but she couldn't think of another way Jessica would want to end that sentence.
"Never considered my sexual orientation. I think I might have been heterosexual because it was easiest that way, and I knew I wasn't lesbian. But then I met you, and I realized I was about as attracted to you as I was to Josh, or Ben Browder."
"I'm flattered," Helen said.
"But it's not, as we proved, that I'm actually attracted to you, so much as the fact that I'm not as attracted to them as I thought I was."
"I wish I could say I understand," Helen said carefully.
Jessica laughed dryly. "No, you don't."
"I'm your friend," Helen said, more emphatically. "I do want to help."
"You can't. I get that."
Helen rolled her eyes. "Just because I'm not asexual doesn't mean I can't help."
"Asexual?" Jessica said, biting her lip. "There's a name for everything."
Jessica had gone for a long run after her talk with Helen. It hadn't made her feel less anxious, just exhausted on top of the anxious.
On top of which her phone was blinking that she'd missed a call.
Jessica sighed and held down the button for voicemail on her phone. She knew who it was without checking, and she knew that if she didn't listen and respond now she'd have five more messages by tomorrow evening.
"Hey, Jessica, it's Mom. I had to hear from your brother that Josh broke up with you. I'm so sorry, darling. Still, would it kill you to keep me in the loop? You used to tell me everything. Anyway, call me back soon, and remember, I want grandchildren from you before my eyesight goes and I can't read them stories anymore."
Jessica shook her head and ended the call.
Fortunately she still had a little luck on her side, because the call to her mother went straight to voicemail. "Hi Mom, it's Jessica. He didn't break up with me, I broke up with him. Sorry I didn't call you, I was visiting a fertility clinic to see about this whole artificial insemination thing. Joking, joking. Anyway, I'm fine, as far as I know Josh is fine, and I'll see you for lunch on Sunday, okay? Bye."
"What do I do?" Jessica asked from what Helen told her was supposed to be a yoga pose. Jessica didn't know what it was, but she knew it didn't feel right. "I can't just tell my mom I'm not attracted to anyone, she won't understand. I don't understand."
"Your mother strikes me as the kind of person who'd rather people be honest with her than anything else," Helen said. She looked to be managing the pose Jessica was trying without looking winded, curse her.
"But I don't know what to tell her. I don't know how this changes things. I mean. I think I could have been happy with what our relationship had become, but obviously that wasn't going to work for you, and it wouldn't be fair for me to expect it to."
Helen shrugged. "You're independent-minded enough that you should know you don't need a man to make your life complete. If you factor in the fact that you're not sexually attracted to them, they're just not worth the bother."
Jessica frowned and unfolded. "I always figured that if the right man came along that would be the answer to all the questions I had."
"That's not necessarily any less true now," Helen said. "But really, who wants that kind of world view? It's so depressing."
"Mom always describes Dad as completing her," Jessica said, a tone of wistfulness in her voice.
"We all complete each other," Helen said. "It's got nothing to do with sex. Though the sex is good too."
"I guess I just think that I don't need someone else to be happy." Jessica was tempted to slam her head into a wall or something. For some reason she'd thought talking through her brother would be easier. Somehow she'd neglected the fact that he'd just returned from his honeymoon and thought marriage was the best institution ever.
"It's not about needing someone else, it's about letting them in. For both of your sakes," Dan said.
Jessica shrugged. "I think all these years that I've been looking for someone to complete me, I've been holding myself back, because I figured someone else would give me the encouragement I need to show my art, and things like that. So I didn't try to do them by myself. I think it'll be good for me to spend some time not looking for anyone, just looking after myself."
Dan looked thoughtful, and Jessica held her breath. "Oh," he said.
Jessica crossed her fingers.
Dan drummed his own fingers on the edge of the table. He peered at her face, and Jessica did her best to look earnest. "You're actually probably right. I found Rachel when I wasn't looking."
Jessica knew she'd have to accept his well-intentioned impression that she still wanted to settle down in the spirit it was intended. "So if you could just explain that to Mom?"
Dan sighed. "I'll give it my best shot."
"That's all I ask." Jessica grinned at him. "I'd do it myself, but I already tried talking to her."
"Didn't go well?" Dan said.
"You can say that again."
"This isn't just because you're upset you broke up with Josh again, right?" Dan asked. "I have to ask."
"It's not. That was for the best." Jessica smiled. "Trust me Dan, I'm happy."