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What could've been

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Something vulnerable woke up when Honor photographed Joy at that park, when she was bare as she changed into her dress. At the time, Joy dismissed that as being nervous, because no other woman had seen her grown up form naked. That would’ve been a reasonable theory to attach herself to, if only that was the first time when Joy doubted herself. While they had made that dress together, something fluttered inside Joy whenever she was near Honor, whenever Honor delivered her a compliment or even smalltalk. Somehow a mellow longing brewed inside of Joy whenever she left Honor. But Joy was taught that women do not love each other like that, so she buried that feeling deep within the basements of her mind and took her mind off of it for the next decade.

God was merciful in granting Joy a second chance in life with Dan, and with him she was reborn. Gone was the desperate, frantic mess that was Joy Fitzpatrick, a trophy who drowned her demons with alcohol while New York City ogled her whenever she went on stage. Now it was just Joy, a housewife who planted beautiful flowers down the street. This life in the suburbs had been quiet and uneventful, but Joy was done with surprises and drama.

Dan was a humble husband who hid no secrets from her, unlike Frank who was a cavern of them. Whatever secret he had, she knew, because they had both been lost and they had found a way back together. There was something admirable about how Dan was a family man at heart, and how he truly loved both Joy and Imogen-- helping Imogen cook pancakes and squeeze orange juice for her breakfast in bed meals every year, ordering exotic flowers for Joy to plant in her garden, being Joy’s rock to anchor on during the calamities of life.

But Dan’s domestic, hard working soul reminded Joy of someone. It started when Dan was so busy helping Imogen out with her homework that his coffee in the coffee pot had gone cold. This evoked a memory, a memory of an Irish seamstress, stitching pearl buttons onto the bodice of a dress, too busy to remember that she had left the tea brewing until night fell. This sewed a seed of doubt into Joy: did she love Dan because he reminded her of Honor?

Honor was kind and hospitable. She was also dedicated, like Dan. If she was hospitable and dedicated, maybe she was a family person as well. Yet the more Joy thought about who Honor was, the more she realised that there was more about her to admire: clever, humble Honor with her imagination as deep as the sea. She gazed at the world with wide, brown eyes that soaked in everything beautiful and distilled them into designs for her frocks. Agile fingers which brought every woman’s fantasy into a reality. In contrast, Dan was an ordinary car salesperson, nothing more, nothing less.

This revelation only tumbled into an avalanche as time went by. Honor would know just the type of fabric to mimic these elegant, opaque petals, was what Joy thought when she harvested scarlet carnations for the dinner centrepiece. And perhaps she’d ask what types of flowers would go well with carnations, because she wanted more of a challenge than a simple red dress, and Joy would reply that giant daisies would look wonderful. Maybe Honor could accessorise the dress with a layer of delicate tulle embroidered with daisies. Maybe she would add white and yellow accents, like white cuffs with yellow polkadots. More and more whenever Joy was unsure of what she was about to say, she would ask herself: what would Honor say? Because Honor was strong minded and confident and undaunted to say whatever was on her mind. Though Joy can be sarcastic, there had been times when she could’ve borrowed Joy’s unwavering guts.

Joy didn’t mean to, but then she began to ponder other possibilities. What would Honor think of this bouquet? What would Honor think of Dan, of Imogen? Would she make good friends with Dan? Would she like Imogen? Would she like this neighbourhood? Then the possibilities delved deeper. What would Honor be like as a lover? Would her hospitable side triumph in this area and would she care for Joy like Dan, if not better? Or was she much more of a business oriented person? Was Honor a family person? Did she like children?

They were all ordinary, reasonable ponderings any friend would make, Joy told herself. But one afternoon, a single stray thought cracked her open like a nut.

What if she had kissed Honor in the park?

Joy never cared much for praying, but that evening she prayed to her God to forgive her for this tiny thought. This little thought shouldn’t matter, right? She had done worse in her lifetime, and it was not like she had ever tried to force herself onto Honor. Yet she was still left in a mess when she finished praying.

She needed to be alone. That night after dinner, Joy excused herself to bed early because she needed time by herself. Hours later, Joy would found herself thrown into a deeper pit of confusion when her husband came.

“Joy, dear, is something the matter?” Dan asked as he slipped beneath the covers. Joy rolled her head towards her husband. Dan gazed at Joy with confusion yet wisdom and love. Joy shut her eyes together, then gave out a sanitised person.

“I was thinking about an old friend, that is all. About… about how it’d be if she was still here with me.”

“Ah. The good old ‘what if’. Eh?” Dan touched Joy’s cheek. “Can you write to her? Or better yet, visit her.”

“I can’t. She has moved away.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

The sincerity of Dan twisted Joy’s guts into knots. Dan gave her Imogen. Dan gave her this life. Honor did not seem to be interested in women, and Joy was not entirely sure if she swung that way too. She knew that she loved Dan and Imogen. Honor was a clever, talented woman, even though she had divorced Frank she could start a new boutique, even if it was without her. It had been a decade since Joy had seen Honor. Maybe she had started a new family too. The thought sank into her stomach like a heavy stone.

A kiss was placed onto Joy’s forehead. Joy smiled and gave Dan a kiss back, and her worries melted away. Then Joy realised-- these desires about Honor can only stay inside her mind, and with all these years put aside, Honor was now nothing more than a fantasy, but Dan was real and here for her.

Joy still missed Honor, however.