'Lunges again, Jo?’ a cheeky voice teased.
I was coaching my gym class through yet another circuit and Helen was giving me grief. But her grin told me she was up for the challenge!
There was something special about Helen, then 41. When she asked you how you were, she really cared, and listened intently. Soon, we became friends, popping out for coffee after our early morning workouts.
Her friendship had come at a perfect time. Recently divorced from my hubby, at 31 I was a single mum of two beautiful kids, Tiana, seven, and Ryan, 11. A bubbly personal trainer, I seemed like I had it all together. But deep down, I was struggling.
What if I never find love again? I worried.
Never married, Helen was also looking for her ‘Mr Right’. So, after going on some online dates, I convinced her to try to do the same. At my place one night, we sifted through her photos to create the perfect profile.
‘Come on, that’s a good one!’ I encouraged her.
I dated a couple of guys who ticked all the boxes but something didn’t seem right.
‘I just don’t feel it!’ I confided in Helen.
She got it – she hadn’t even found anyone online she wanted to have coffee with. But I wasn’t lonely – Helen and I were forever out and about together.
Some Friday nights, we’d play card games at home with Tiana and Ryan.
She’s so lovely with the kids, I thought.
They adored her, too.
Home alone one Sunday afternoon about two years after I met Helen, my mood nosedived. The kids were with their dad for the weekend and the house felt so empty.
My mind, though, was brimming with thoughts. I’d dated some amazing men – why hadn’t I clicked with any of them? Then an idea I hadn’t ever dared myself to consider bubbled to the surface.
I think I’m gay, I realised.
Maybe I always had been…
It wasn’t a happy epiphany. Petrified, I didn’t want to be different. What would my friends think? My family? My clients at the gym? It wasn’t like I lived in a big city – I was from central Queensland.
Dragging myself off the couch, I went to meet Helen and her sister, Liz, for a nice long walk. Maybe that would help me clear my head...
I can’t tell anyone yet, I decided.
But I’d overestimated my ability to stay silent – I’d never been able to keep a secret.
‘So, I’ve had an epiphany,’ I blurted out, within seconds. ‘I’m gay.’
‘That’s awesome,’ Liz smiled, chatting away as if I’d revealed a new hairstyle, not a sexuality change. But Helen’s silence rang loud and clear. She couldn’t even meet my eye.
Well, there’s the first friend I’ve lost, I thought, my tummy curdling.
I felt sick, sad and judged.
That night, my phone pinged with a text message.
We need to talk, Helen wrote.
Seeing her the next day, my heart hammered in my chest.
‘So, I wanted to tell you...’ Helen began.
Am I going to lose her? I fretted.
‘I’ve been in love with you for six months,’ she finished.
For once, I shut up.
I kept walking, Helen by my side. All the while, I was running through my perfect partner checklist. Kind. Generous. Beautiful.
Stealing a look at my best friend, I realised I’d hit the jackpot! After strolling in silence for about 10 minutes, I stopped dead in my tracks.
‘I didn’t know what I was looking for, but it’s you!’ I exclaimed.
Helen’s relief was palpable. I knew exactly how she felt. Parting ways, we had a cuddle and a slightly awkward peck on the cheek.
The next night, we went on our first dinner date. So nervous, we could barely manage a bite! In fact, that first week we hardly ate at all – we were lovesick.
Both filled with butterflies, I made the first move, leaning in for a proper kiss. As our lips met, I felt utter wonder. I’d never kissed anyone like this.
In a matter of days, we’d gone from besties to madly in love – just like that. What was the use in messing around?
Breaking the news to our families was terrifying, but we were blessed with their support. Straight away, Helen’s dad, Len, then 68, rang all their relatives with the happy news.
Last month, after seven wonderful years as a couple, Helen and I walked down the aisle together and became wife and wife. Even though Tiana was 14, she insisted on being our flower girl and Ryan, 18, shared our special day, too. Tiana even wrote a poem for the occasion.
You’ve made my mum the happiest woman alive, if only everyone could have mothers like mine, she read.
If I hadn’t come out, Helen has told me she doesn’t know if she’d have confessed her true feelings. How sad would that have been? No-one should have to hide who they really are.
And everyone deserves to find their Helen!
Read more in this week's issue of that's life!