The Light We Lost (Page 12)

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I don’t know if you and I ever talked about Jocelyn, but she was Jay’s girlfriend in college and right afterward. They met their sophomore year at Princeton and kept getting together and breaking up over and over for five years—until finally she decided to go to medical school at Stanford, and after a brief attempt at long distance they broke up for good. I guess their five years has nothing on our . . . how should I calculate it now . . . thirteen? Eleven?

“I remember,” I said to Jay, even though I only half did. I was in college at the time and so wrapped up in my own world that I hadn’t really been all that involved in my brother’s.

“The reason I was able to end things for good is that I realized that we were like the gummy bear experiment. Do you remember that one? I think I showed it to you in the lab when you came to visit me at college my freshman year. You put potassium chlorate in a test tube and then add a gummy bear, and these two items that are perfectly fine on their own explode. Every single time. Jocelyn and I were like that experiment. Every time we were together we would explode, and it was exciting and wonderful in some ways, but who wants to live with constant explosions?”

“Mm-hm,” I answered, thinking of you and me. We didn’t break up and get back together over and over, but our relationship back then did feel exciting and wonderful. We were better together than each of us was on our own.

“Anyway, when I met Vanessa, it was different. It was like . . . it was like the Old Nassau experiment. Do you remember that one? It starts out with three clear solutions, but you mix two together first, so I imagine I’m those two mixed solutions, and then when you add the third, nothing happens at first, but then the solution turns orange because of the potassium iodate and then a little while later, it turns color again, this time to black, which you know is my favorite color, because it’s the one that contains all the pigment there is, and then it stays that way.”

He stopped. I was silent. I had no clue how to respond.

“Basically, what I’m saying, Lu, is that the relationship got better the longer it lasted. Instead of that gummy bear explosion, it’s a clock reaction. Do you understand what I mean?”

I didn’t understand then, though I do now. Darren showed me that. Though he’d probably say love is like a fine wine, where flavors deepen and change over time. All I said to Jason then was, “But I love him so much, Jay.”

“I know,” he said. “I loved Jocelyn too. I still do. Probably I always will a little bit. But I love Vanessa—differently. What I wanted to tell you is that there are lots of ways to love people and I know that you’ll love someone else again. Even if it’s not the same, some of it might be better.”

“I don’t want to,” I whispered. I wanted to love only you. And I couldn’t imagine anything could be better than that.

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Jason was quiet for a moment. “Maybe it was too soon for me to say that,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m not that good at this sort of thing. But maybe . . . what I said will make its way into your neurons and you’ll remember it when you need it most.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Okay. Thanks for calling.”

“I love you, Lucy, like hydrogen loves oxygen. A totally different kind of love. An elemental kind.”

And when he said that, I laughed through my tears because only my brother could explain love using the periodic table.

xxiv

Alexis dragged me all over that summer. To bars, to concerts, to parties, to movie screenings. We dressed up every night, in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Southampton, and with enough martinis, I could forget for a little bit.

Kate took me to her parents’ place on Cape Cod for a week, leaving Tom back in Manhattan. She pampered me with spa treatments and took me to a salon for a brand-new haircut she’d found in a French fashion magazine her sister sent. That’s when I cut off my braid and donated my hair.

Julia told me she was on Team Lucy and that she’d be there whenever I needed her. We spent a lot of nights together eating macaroni and cheese, since you hated it, and watching the most violent action films we could find.

My friends were actually pretty amazing, considering how much they hated you at that point. I don’t know if Kate or Alexis has ever forgiven you for leaving me. Julia has, but it took her a while to understand what you and I had together—until your gallery show.

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My mom sent me text messages all day long. And inspirational articles in the mail.

Jason came to visit, treating me to a Brooklyn Cyclones game, and hot dogs, and an explosion using Diet Coke and Mentos.

Practically everyone I knew tried to cheer me up in every way they knew how. And I tried as hard as I could to get over you, but really the only thing I needed was time.

xxv

At the end of that summer, about two weeks after I got your e-mail and created my Disaster folder, I met Darren.

Does it bother you that I’m talking about him? I’m sorry if it does, but he’s part of our story too. As much as you might not like it—might not like him—our road wouldn’t be the same without Darren.

I woke up to make coffee the last weekend of my Hamptons share, Labor Day weekend, and he was sleeping on the couch in the middle of our living room. I’d never seen him before. He certainly hadn’t been there when I’d gone to bed. Still, Alexis’s friend Sabrina tended to bring groups of people back to the house, and it wasn’t a surprise to find them sleeping on couches or chairs or sometimes even on the floor in the living room.

I tiptoed around him and headed into the kitchen to make some coffee for the house. After you left, my whole sleep pattern changed. The minute I woke up, no matter how early, no matter how hungover, I got out of bed, because lying there without you was an exercise in misery. So coffee had become my job that summer.

The house was always full of people, and I tried not to look too much like I’d just rolled out of bed. That morning I’d thrown on a bikini—my favorite that summer was a red bandeau—with a pair of cutoff shorts. And I’d tied a bandana around my hair, letting the side-swept bangs hang over my left eye. I was tan from all those Hamptons weekends, and the bike rides to the beach had toned my body more than I’d expected them to. I liked what I saw when I looked in the mirror that summer. I had to stop myself often from wondering what you’d think if you saw me—if you’d like it too.

By the time the coffee machine started percolating, Darren had woken up. He walked into the kitchen and greeted me with the worst attempt at a pickup line I’d ever heard. Or maybe it wasn’t even supposed to be a pickup line. He’s never admitted one way or the other. Regardless, it was the sort of ridiculous thing that you would never say.

“Have I died and gone to caffeine heaven?” he asked. “Because you seem like a coffee angel.”

It did make me smile, though.

His hair was pin-straight, but it was sticking up on one side, where it had been crushed against the arm of the couch. And he was wearing boxer briefs and a T-shirt that said New Jersey: Only the Strong Survive. I couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of his clothing had gone.

I handed him the first cup of coffee and he took a sip.

“I’m no angel,” I told him. “I promise. I’m Lucy.”

“Darren,” he said, holding out his hand. “This coffee is fantastic.”

“I ground the beans yesterday,” I told him. “They’re from that new fair-trade coffee place in town.”

He took another sip. “Your boyfriend is one lucky guy,” he said, “dating a girl who can make coffee like this.”

I couldn’t help it, tears pricked my eyes as I said, “No boyfriend.”

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“Really,” he said, drinking more coffee, his eyes finding mine over the rim of the mug.

I compared him to you then. His straight hair to your curly. His short, muscular frame to your long, lean one. His brown eyes to your blue. I knew he wanted to flirt, but I couldn’t do it.

“I’m gonna go get my stuff together for the beach,” I told him. “If you leave before I come out of my room again, it was nice to meet you.”

He nodded and lifted his mug. “Thanks for the coffee, Lucy,” he said.

xxvi

He left before I came out of my room again. Or rather, I didn’t come out of my room until I heard him and his friend leave. But he must have asked Sabrina about me, because I got a Friendster request from him the next day. And a message asking for the name of the fair-trade coffee bean store.

We bantered a little through messages, and he invited me to a coffee-and-chocolate pairing event he’d read about in Park Slope. It was a Sunday afternoon, which somehow felt safe and non-date-y, and I had nothing else to do, so I went.

It would be a lie to say I didn’t think about you at all. In fact, I thought about you a lot. But interspersed, there were moments of fun. Of jokes. Of coffee almost coming out of Darren’s nose because he was laughing so hard at one of the descriptions of the pairings. It was the best time I’d had in months. Well, the best time I’d had in months sober.

So when he asked me out for dinner a week later, I said yes. He wasn’t you, but he was clever, he was handsome, he made me laugh . . . he wanted me. And he made me forget about you, at least for a little while.

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