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Calling Eschieve has become a weekly thing. We chat from anywhere between fifteen minutes to two hours, and she tells me all about her life just like she lets me talk about mine.
Every once in a while, she'll bring up Lucien. I know he hasn't been around, something to do with a retreat. She wouldn't tell me too much about it, and she's fully in her right. I'm not in any position to demand information, or to ask any questions.
Christmas break is just around the corner, so my days are spent preparing my students for the exam that's scheduled at the start of the new year, and grading essays they've had to write. It's the least fun part of the job, but it has to be done. Jesse's in the same boat, so it's nice to just spend nights together at the dining table, grading and loudly complaining about our jobs.
Tomorrow, we'll be putting up the Christmas tree. Kate has been bouncing around the house for days, overly excited for the holidays to start.
Figuring out how to spend my days was quite the puzzle, because I'm supposed to see my parents and Kenna, and it's not all the same as it used to be.
Kenna and Tom are pretty much home bound, her belly looking like she ate a skippy ball, and they tell me they're not too worried about doing anything exciting during those days. We promise to see each other the twenty-seventh, so I have Christmas eve and part of Christmas day with Jesse and Kate. Then, I'll go to see my parents, and spend some time there.
In previous years, I was super excited about the festivities. Buying presents weeks in advance, looking for the perfect gift for everyone.
This year, I can't wait for it to be over. Sure, it's nice to see the excitement Kate has surrounding the holiday, and I'm enjoying it, but I'm not looking forward to the whole wholesome and sweet, sappy activities.
There's so much pressure on me, it feels like. Christmas is supposed to be a time of family, and love, and happiness.
Part of me still feels broken. The big, gaping hole in the middle of my chest has tightened a little, but it's still very much there.
Whilst browsing the shops the other day, I found this cute little secondhand store. It reminded me of the bookstore in Paris, and it compelled me to go in.
I felt like I was transported back in time, my heart almost pounding out of my chest as I tried my best not to turn around to see if Lucien was standing there.
I walked out with not one, but four French poetry books, as if they were placed there just for them to rip my heart out.
I've hidden them from Jesse, just like I've hidden the fact I've been having weekly chats with Eschieve. He's all about healing and coming to peace with things, and this form of self torture wouldn't sit well with him.
He's been great, he really has been. We have really nice conversations, and his cooking is phenomenal. He hasn't put any pressure on me to meet my family or for me to meet his, and we just get along really well.
I keep on telling myself that I'm holding myself back because I'm still not fully over Lucien, and that Jesse and I are good together. That we're supposed to be together, that there's no need to question whether or not this is a good idea.
It has to be a good idea, because it all just seems so right. Our lives fit together right, we have a lot in common, and Kate has really taken a liking to me. It would break her heart if I let this go just because I'm not entirely sure.
Besides, can you ever be entirely sure? Even with Lucien, there was always this flicker of doubt in the back of my mind that he would leave me, and this tiny flicker was proven right.
Jesse calls it trauma, caused by the loss of a loved one in a critical point in my life, followed up by an abusive boyfriend and then an emotionally unavailable one who couldn't meet me in my emotional and spiritual needs.
In turn, I jokingly tell him he should switch careers and become a therapist, to which he replies that he likes what he does, but that if he ever does make a career switch, that'll be his first choice.
      It's December twenty-first, and the tree looks beautiful, for as far as a tree can look beautiful when you let a six year old do all of the decorating. There's a bunch of ornament she's handmade, one more colourful than the other.
After the lights have been connected and the, also hand-crafted, star is on top of the tree, she leans back to look at it. Then, from the little table in the corner of the room that's hers, she takes out one last ornament.
There's already two like it in the tree, and seeing the third one weirdly makes my heart flutter and break at the same time.
It's my name in her handwriting, decorated with glitter and sparkly stars.
"I made this," she smiles, putting it next to Jesse's and hers. "Do you like it?"
As I wipe away the tears she watches her dad put an arm around me, then inviting her into the hug.
"Oh, Katie, I love it," I laugh through my tears. I really do, I love it. It's so sweet, and so kind, and it also makes me feel so guilty for all of the feelings I'm experiencing.
She hugs me the tightest, her arms wrapping around me like she's never going to let me go.
Jesse, in his turn, leaves the embrace for a while, returning with a basket filled with gifts he must have hidden somewhere. From the wrapping, I can tell most of them are for Kate, but there's a few that have the letter E on them.
"Babe...," I'm still teary eyed, having Kate in my arm as she's latched onto me like a monkey. "We said no presents..."
He smiles as he puts them down. "And I didn't listen..."
And there it is again, the guilty feeling.

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