For Real Friday: Beyond First Loves

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He didn’t ask for my keys, so I gathered he was too upset to drive as well. When I turned into a dirt lot behind an abandoned diner, he asked, “Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you?”

“Beyond the weirdness of you hooking up with my best friend’s mom?” I laughed.

Hades winced. “I—”

I shook my head. “Way before my time, I know. This isn’t you. It’s me. I may need a day or two to get the idea of you two out of my head—” I shuddered. “Gods, Hades. She’s so old!”

“She was thirty!”

“Yeah. That’s old. I know it’s stupid, but I always pictured the people you were with as my age, physically anyway.”

Hades snorted. “No. You’re absolutely the youngest person I’ve ever . . . ” He trailed off, as if he wasn’t certain what we’d done. What we were.

And wasn’t that the problem?

“There!” He pointed at me. “That! Right there. You only get that look when something’s bothering you.”

“What look?”

Hades narrowed his eyes and scrunched up his nose. I stared at him, horrified.

“I’m not getting it right.” He shrugged. “Just trust me. You have a look. So what’s wrong?”

I opened the door and stepped into the parking lot, dust rising with my footsteps as I made my way to the front of the car. His door creaked open. I leaned on the hood, staring at the burnt-out shell of the old diner. “I’m so mad at Mom that anything I say to you right now is going to sound angry. And I’m not angry with you. I’m not . . . I don’t know how I feel about . . . ugh.” I shuddered again, thinking of him and Minthe. “There’s just too much going on. I can’t sort out anything that’s going on in my head.”

The car dipped down when he sat beside me on the hood. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

A solitary car drove by, the headlights illuminating the scrawling weeds that had taken over the foundation of the old diner. I bit my lip. “Do you really want to do this right now? Let’s take a night. You’ve been through a lot. I’m all upset. Let’s decompress—”

“That’s exactly what I don’t want to do!” Hades pushed off the car. “I don’t want this to build up and become something bigger than it has to be. I’d rather clear the air, right here, right now. Get everything out in the open so I never have to think about her again.”

I blinked, unsure of how to respond to that. There was a whoosh as another car drove by. Hades waited until the sound faded before continuing. “I’ve spent so long feeling guilty about what happened to her. But she’s okay. Now I can put her behind me.” His hands fell down by his sides. “So please, tell me what’s bothering you.”

I closed my eyes. “This is going to sound so petty.”

“What?”

“You . . . and her . . . I mean you guys . . . ” Gods, I didn’t want to say it. I kicked at the dust, forcing the words from the throat. “Did you . . . ?”

“Does it matter?”

I gave him a look. “You’re the one who wanted to go down this road. I was willing to drop it.”

He grimaced. “You know the answer to that. I’ve always been upfront with you. I’m not going to spout some B.S. about how I’ve waited millennia for you. You weren’t on my radar. I never knew . . . ” He paused. “I didn’t know I could feel like this about another person.”

“And not just her,” I whispered. “There were others. Hera?”

He looked up at me. “We could do this all night, Persephone.” I winced. “But does it matter? Yes. There have been other women, but that doesn’t matter to me because they aren’t you.

~@~

One thing I had to be super clear on with Hades and Minthe is that there is no there there anymore. Ditto for anyone else he ever got together with. It’s a hard thing to set up, because in YA geared media and particular, if an ex is introduced a subplot involving that ex as a problem (either as a romantic interest, stalker, or antagonistic jerk) isn’t far behind. But life doesn’t always work that way.

Another reason why the whole ex thing is often problematic in YA media is the emphasis on firsts. It’s an understandable issue, because YA focuses on coming of age. It’s intended for an age group just starting to date. But there’s so many destined to be together, the only person I ever cared about, the only person I could ever truly love, fated story lines, that there’s an almost unhealthy fixation on meeting THE person you’re going to end up with first. Particularly for girls. And when that doesn’t work out, it can be really devastating because the narrative we’ve been given doesn’t back up that experience.

It can also cause a lot of friction when one person in a relationship has been in more relationships than the other. Especially when one of those people hasn’t been involved with anyone else. There’s a fear of comparison and again, that narrative backs up the fact that the other person’s exes may mean more to them than they say.

It’s okay to have been in more than one relationship, regardless of how serious. Every relationship is different and I promise, they aren’t all fated.

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