The Light We Lost (Page 14)

I couldn’t help but think, in that brief moment, that those were two costumes you would never, in your whole life, ever suggest. The year before you and I had gone as a plug and a socket, remember? That was more your style. More both of our styles, actually.

“So you’re going for pop culture?” I asked Darren.

“Okay, can I confess something?” he said.

My heart lurched. “Okay . . .” I answered, really having no idea what was coming next. Already regretting that I hadn’t kissed him, that I hadn’t tried harder.

“I was drawing a blank with Halloween costumes, so I Googled ‘popular Halloween costumes.’ If you have any more original ideas, I’m all ears. Well, actually, I’m not. I’m eyes and a nose and a mouth and . . . well . . . other body parts too.”

I laughed, so incredibly relieved. “Other body parts?” I asked, realizing for the first time that I really wanted to flirt with him. That I was enjoying it. “Really?”

He was silent on the other end of the line. I could imagine his face, eyes opening wider, cheeks turning pink. “I didn’t mean . . .” he said.

“How about a Freudian slip?” I asked. “For Halloween? I can wear a slip with the word Freudian on it. And you can be Dr. Freud himself. I’ll find you a cigar.”

He laughed. “I like it!” he said. “Better than Spider-Man and MJ for sure.”

“What time’s the party?” I asked.

“Starts at nine,” he said, “at Gavin and Arjit’s place. Do you remember Arjit from the Hamptons?”

“I don’t think I do.”

“Well, you’ll meet them both at the party, then. How about I come over at eight with pizza? I have no idea what those guys think is appropriate party food, so we should be fortified before we leave.”

“Sounds good to me. I think I have a slip somewhere around here. And I’ll look for some fabric markers tomorrow.”

“And my cigar?” Darren said. “Actually, I think I’ll bring my own cigar.”

“Oh, will you?” I asked.

I could tell I’d flustered him again. “Um . . .” he said.

“Just teasing. I’ll see you Saturday night.”

• • •

SATURDAY NIGHT CAME and Darren arrived at my apartment wearing a white beard, fake glasses, a gray three-piece suit, and a sedately striped tie. He was carrying a pizza box in one hand and a cigar in the other.

“Do I look Freud-ish?” he asked.

“Remarkably so,” I answered. “Do I look like a Freudian slip?”

My hair was down and loose, and I was wearing a knee-length white lacy slip with the word Freudian written on it in red fabric marker. I hadn’t been quite sure which shoes were appropriate, so I went with silver ballet flats. I matched my lipstick to the fabric marker, so it was bright red.

Darren smiled behind his fake beard. “You do,” he said. “You absolutely do.”

• • •

SOMETHING BETWEEN US changed palpably that night. Instead of doing his goofy gentlemanly arm crook, he held my hand as we walked to his friends’ apartment. We were quickly roped into a game of flip cup and another and another, which left him tipsy and me one level past that.

Wherever he was at the party, his eyes kept coming back to me, as if he was making sure I was okay, making sure I was still there. I remembered going to parties with you, my eyes roaming the room for you the way Darren’s were for me. It was nice, the change in roles.

When the party started winding down, Darren drifted back toward me. I was chatting with some other girlfriends about I have no idea what. “I’m getting a little tired,” he said.

I turned toward him. “Me too. Shall we?”

He nodded. “I’ll grab our coats and meet you by the door.”

I said good-bye to the girlfriends and headed to where Darren was talking with Gavin. He’d been pointed out to me earlier, but we hadn’t met yet.

“This is Lucy,” Darren said, when I got closer.

“So you’re the paper doll,” Gavin said.

“I’m the what?” I asked.

I saw Darren give Gavin a look. “You’re beautiful,” he said quickly. “Just like a doll.”

“Thanks,” I said, smiling.

I knew there was something I was missing, but it didn’t matter. That night, as we left the Halloween party, I felt adored. And happy. And completely thrilled that Darren took my hand as we walked out into the crisp fall night together.

“Walk you home?” he asked.

“Sure,” I answered. My gaze lingered on his lips, where they peeked out of his Freud beard. If he’d tried to kiss me three weeks before then, I would’ve freaked. Maybe never seen him again. But at that point, I wanted it. I wanted him. He wasn’t you, he’d never be you, but he was sweet and kind and funny and smart and endearing. And there was something wonderful about that.

We got to my door, and Darren stopped. I stopped. We faced each other. He’d taken off his fake beard and my eyes went to his lips again.

“Lucy,” he said, “I don’t want to go too fast, but I want to . . .”

“Kiss me,” I said.

His eyebrows popped.

“You want to kiss me,” I repeated. “It’s okay. Kiss me.”

Darren leaned in, and our lips met, soft and warm in the night air. Our bodies pressed together. I smelled that Kenneth Cole Reaction cologne that half the men at work seemed to have started wearing that year.

He smelled so different than you did. He tasted different and felt different. I blinked tears away from the corners of my eyes.

Then our lips separated and Darren looked at me and smiled.

I wondered if I should invite him inside, if that was the right thing to do. I didn’t really want to, but didn’t want to send him a message that I wasn’t interested. Before I could puzzle through it, Darren said, “I should go . . . but tonight was a lot of fun. Are you free on Thursday?”

I smiled. “I am.”

Darren leaned in and kissed me once more. “I’ll call you,” he said, as he walked away and I headed inside.

For the first time since you left, I dreamed about someone else.

xxxi

It’s funny to experience the same thing with different people. You see how they react, and how they meet or subvert your expectations. It happened with Darren a lot. I had assumed that you were the male standard, that you acted the way all men acted. But really, there is no standard.

The first morning Darren and I went running together was the second morning he’d stayed at my apartment. He’d come from work with a gym bag that he’d never actually brought to the gym. He said he’d meant to go before he got to the office, but there was trouble on the subway. I believed him. But that next morning, while we were running, he admitted the truth: he’d packed it in the hope that I’d invite him over, and this way he’d have more to wear than just his work suit.

“What if I didn’t invite you over?” I asked him.

“Then I’d carry my gym bag back home and drown my sorrows in pretzels dipped in peanut butter.”

“Pretzels dipped in peanut butter?” I asked. “Really?”

“It’s a delicacy,” Darren said. “I swear. After we finish running, we can buy some.”

Darren can run faster than me, but he didn’t make a big deal of it. He waited until I started running, and then paced himself next to me. That way, we could talk without any trouble. It was a pleasant surprise. Did you notice that I hardly even agreed to go running with you? We never talked about it. We probably should have. When we ran together I always felt like I was reining you in when you wanted to fly.

I started lagging a little bit.

“You okay?” Darren asked.

I nodded, gathering strength. “I can keep up a little longer,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” he answered, slowing down to a walk.

“You can keep running,” I told him, as I slowed down too. “Get your workout in.” That was what you did, after I tired out.

He shook his head. “I’d rather walk with you than run alone. And, you know, walking is a good workout too. You burn the exact same number of calories walking a mile as you do running a mile. It just takes less time when you run.”

I looked sideways at him, wondering if he was really being honest. It seemed like he was. “You don’t get the cardio, though,” I said.

He shrugged. “But I get to spend time with you.”

• • •

I HAD SEX WITH HIM for the first time that afternoon. That felt different than it did with you, too. Not worse, just different. He was slower, thoughtful, and checked in to see if I liked what he was doing, if there was anything else I wanted. At the beginning, I thought it was a little weird, but toward the end, he’d started to win me over. I began to give directions, which I’d never done with you.

“Put my legs on your shoulders,” I told him. He did and slid further inside me.

“Oh my God,” he whispered, thrusting faster.

“I know,” I said. My eyes were closed and I could feel him hitting the spot deep inside that would make me o****m. “If you keep doing that, I’m going to come,” I told him.