The Light We Lost (Page 15)

“Me too,” he said. “We’ll come together.”

I opened my eyes and saw him looking at me. His eyes were dark normally, but now they looked almost black.

My breathing changed pitch and so did his. We were both so close, and both waiting for each other.

“Now?” he asked

“Now,” I said.

And we both let go. I felt tears in my eyes as I came, and they slipped down the sides of my face into my ears.

“Are you okay?” he asked, after he’d slid off the condom and rolled next to me on the bed.

“More than okay,” I told him. “I’m great.”

“Me too,” he said. “More than great.”

He wrapped his arm around me, and we lay in bed together for a while, not talking, just breathing.

I thought about you, then, for a little. Thought about how everything was different with Darren. But I didn’t fall apart. I didn’t break.

Maybe it takes a man to get over a man—or maybe he was helping put me back together.

xxxii

It’s always telling to see unmarried couples together at weddings. There are the ones who act extra loving, wrapping their arms around each other while they watch their friends speak their vows. And then there are the ones who stare straight ahead during the ceremony, not acknowledging their other half, and then proceed to get far too drunk on the dance floor. They look like they’re having a good time, but I think on the inside they’re probably miserable. Sometimes weddings are too much to handle when you’re not secure in your own relationship.

Darren and I hadn’t been dating that long—about three months—when I got Jason and Vanessa’s wedding invitation in the mail. Jay had told me that I could bring a guest if I wanted, or not, if I wanted. A guy, if I wanted, or Kate or Alexis or Julia if I wanted. Whatever would make me the happiest.

I talked to Kate for hours about this. She offered to come, of course. But the idea of being at my brother’s wedding with my childhood best friend instead of a boyfriend made my insides flip. I could imagine my parents’ friends’ looks of pity, and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of those.

I contemplated going alone, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hold it together the whole night without someone next to me. You and I had been broken up for seven months at that point, but I still couldn’t talk about you without my voice catching. I still avoided eating waffles.

“Take Darren,” Kate kept saying.

I wasn’t sure. “It’s only been three months,” I told her. “I don’t know how long this is going to last.”

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“Only three months?” she parroted back at me. “How long did you date Gabe before you two moved in together?”

“That was different,” I said. “We’d known each other before.” And we loved each other like crazy, I finished in my head. Darren was great, but it wasn’t the same.

“Hmph,” she said over the phone, sounding like someone’s old conservative aunt. “Do you have fun with Darren?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you think you’d have fun at your brother’s wedding with him?”

I thought about it. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

“Okay,” she said. “Case closed. Invite him.”

I waited another month, until the day before my brother and Vanessa needed the head count for the venue. Then I asked him.

“Really?” he said. “Your brother’s wedding?”

I felt my face turn hot. In all my conversations with Kate, I’d always assumed that Darren would want to go. “You don’t want to?” I asked.

“No, no!” he said. “I absolutely want to. Yes, I’d love to go to your brother’s wedding. Thank you for inviting me.” Then he smiled his most genuinely happy smile. The one that looks almost exactly like someone drew a perfect half circle and filled it with two rows of teeth.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I think we’ll have fun.”

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He tapped his finger against his lips. “You said one month, right?”

I nodded.

“I know this sounds ridiculous,” he said, “but I think it’s a sign.”

“For what?” I asked.

He poked his hand into his briefcase and pulled out a colorful flyer. “For this!” he said, handing it over. “Someone was giving them out today at the subway stop near my office, and something in me said not to throw it away. It must be providence.”

The paper he’d handed me was a coupon for fifty percent off four weeks’ worth of couples dance classes. Learn to Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, Tango, and Jive!

I started to laugh. “You really want to do this?” I asked him. Never in a million years would you suggest something like this.

“To be honest,” he said, “I’m not the very best dancer, but I think this could be hilarious. And fifty percent off! Who can pass up a deal like that?”

He shrugged, and something about the way his shoulders went up to his ears touched my heart. I kissed him. Then I slid my arm around his shoulders and leaned my head against his head. And it felt so good.

• • •

AFTER OUR FOUR WEEKS of dance classes we weren’t much better than when we started. We might have actually been the worst students in the class, but we also might have been the two people having the best time. We cracked up so often that the teacher shushed us all class long, and during the tango lesson she told us we’d have to leave if we couldn’t take dancing seriously.

• • •

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AT THE WEDDING I stood in a line with the rest of the bridesmaids and kept an eye on Darren as the ceremony progressed. He kept looking at his program and at me and once in a while at Jason and Vanessa.

As soon as the reception started, Darren pulled me onto the dance floor and we attempted to foxtrot and tango and cha-cha, tripping over each other’s feet and laughing. Mid-cha-cha, my heel caught on the back of my gown and I pitched forward, tumbling into Darren’s arms.

“Well,” he said, “that’s one way to get dipped.” And then after he helped me back to a standing position, he knelt down and freed my skirt from my heel.

“Thanks,” I said to him, as I gathered the fabric in one hand and pulled it up so I wouldn’t trip over it again.

“An honor, milady,” he said. I couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped through my nose.

“So,” my uncle George said from where he was standing next to us, taking pictures with one of the disposable cameras Vanessa had placed around the room, “are you two next?”

I felt my face flush and looked over at Darren, hoping that talk like that five months in wasn’t going to freak him out, because it absolutely freaked me out. But he just smiled and said, “If I’m lucky.”

I stilled the panic in my heart. I wasn’t ready to think about the future yet. But I couldn’t help thinking that whatever woman ended up with Darren would be lucky. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be me.

xxxiii

Valentine’s Day has always struck me as odd. Even in elementary school, when we had to write cards for everyone in the class and leave them in heart-shaped construction-paper mailboxes we’d put together with staples and glue. I’d painstakingly decide which Peanuts valentine to give each person in the class—Snoopy or Charlie Brown or, my favorite, Lucy, because we shared a name and a hairstyle back then. Only my closest friends got the Lucy cards.

Then as an adult it became one of those holidays like New Year’s Eve and July Fourth that felt like it was supposed to be so fantastic that the expectation always ruined whatever it was you did that night. And you stood there in a too-crowded bar or lay on a blanket staring up at a cloudy night sky thinking: I’m supposed to be having more fun than this.

The first Valentine’s Day after college, a month before you and I reconnected, I went out with Alexis and Julia and Sabrina and we got stupidly drunk on cosmos and apple martinis. Julia didn’t get out of bed until two in the afternoon, and Alexis BlackBerry-messaged all of us each time she vomited, which I think was six times that day. I just had a headache for about eleven hours straight. Sabrina, of course, was fine.

Then there was you—and your epic celebrations. The Valentine’s Day we spent together was incredible, the kind of thing only you would do. By the time I got home from work you’d cut photographs of both of us into tiny stars and tacked them to the ceiling.

“‘And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun,’” I said, when I saw what you’d done.

You answered by wrapping your arms around me. “God, I love you,” you said.

“I love you right back,” I answered. You kissed the top of my head as I looked around.

You’d moved the furniture so there was space for an enormous picnic blanket in the middle of the studio. A plate of truffle-grilled-cheese sandwiches rested on one corner of the blanket, and a bottle of champagne sat in a small garbage pail full of ice on another. When I took my coat off, you pressed play on an album of Shakespeare’s sonnets set to music.

“Wow, Gabe,” I said, once I’d hung my coat in the closet. Everything you had done floored me but also somehow made me feel a bit unworthy. I hadn’t done close to this amount of planning for Valentine’s Day.

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