The Light We Lost (Page 16)
“I figured it was too cold out for a picnic under the stars, so I brought the stars to us. Shakespeare’s stars.”
I kissed you, hard, then slipped off my heels and sat down with you on the blanket.
“This was the best way I could think of to celebrate you and me,” you said, as you picked up a triangle of grilled cheese. “Hungry?” you asked.
I nodded and you held the sandwich while I took a bite. Then you took a bite yourself.
After I’d chewed and swallowed, I looked up at you. “My present for you isn’t quite as . . . extravagant,” I said. I walked across the studio and pulled a wrapped bundle from underneath my side of the bed. It was a cashmere scarf that I’d knitted during a month of lunchtimes at work—the same exact blue as your eyes.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said, as I handed the gift to you.
You opened it, and your smile lit up your face. “Did you make this?” you asked.
I nodded, feeling less insecure about my gift.
“It’s so soft.” You wrapped the scarf around your neck and left it there the whole rest of the night. “I love it,” you said, “almost as much as I love you.”
I saw you pack the scarf when you left for Iraq. Did you wear it there? Did it make you think of me? If I head back to your apartment now, will it be tucked in the bottom of one of your boxes?
• • •
ALMOST TWO WEEKS after Jason and Vanessa’s wedding, it was Valentine’s Day 2005. Darren isn’t the kind of guy who would create an elaborate romantic Valentine’s Day picnic like you, but he’s sweet and generous and I knew he would do something to celebrate. I wasn’t sure I wanted him to. I wasn’t sure if I should break up with him, since I didn’t know if I felt as strongly for him as he did for me.
I called Kate and told her what I was thinking. “I just don’t feel like I did with Gabe,” I said.
I heard her take a deep breath. “You do need to be fair to him,” she said. “Because I think he was serious when he responded to your uncle at Jason’s wedding.”
“I know,” I told her. “That’s what got me thinking about all of this. And because it’s almost Valentine’s Day.”
“Do you like spending time with him?” Kate asked.
“I do,” I said.
“Does being with him make you happy?” she asked.
“It does,” I said.
“Okay. That’s good. Could you see yourself falling in love with him?”
I thought about it. I thought about him, about his sweetness and generosity and sense of humor. I thought about running with him and going to parties with him and cooking at home with him. I thought about his body, naked next to mine.
“I think I could love him,” I said.
“Do you think you could marry him?” she asked. “Because, you know, he is almost thirty. He’s going to be thinking about that for real pretty soon, if he’s not already.”
I tried to picture it—me, Darren, a wedding, a baby, coming home to him every night.
“Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Kate was silent for a moment. “Then I don’t think you should break up with him,” she said. “If you’d said no you couldn’t love him or no you couldn’t see yourself marrying him, then I’d say you have to. I’d say it isn’t fair otherwise. But since you can, I think you owe it to both of you to see if that’s where this goes. Just take things one step at a time.”
“Okay,” I said. “That makes sense. I’ll see where it goes.”
“Also,” Kate said. “Tom and I are planning a Valentine’s Day dinner party. Would you and Darren like to come?”
I wondered for a split second if the reason she didn’t want me to break up with Darren was so we could come to her Valentine’s Day dinner party as a couple. “I’ll ask Darren and let you know,” I said.
I asked him, and he said yes. Then added, “But can we spend the day before together? Sunday?”
“Sure,” I told him. “Should we come up with something fun to do?”
“I have some ideas,” he said.
Valentine’s Day with Darren meant a trip to a bike shop in Chelsea.
“So,” he said, “I was trying to think of the perfect gift to get you for Valentine’s Day; I wanted it to be something that felt . . . couple-y. And I was walking by this shop and I saw that sign.” He pointed to one that said: Sweetheart Special! Bike with Your Baby! “I went in to see what the deal is, and basically we can get a set of matching bicycles for Valentine’s Day for the price of one!”
I blinked at him. “You want to buy me a bike?”
He shrugged. “Well,” he said, “I want to buy us both bikes. And then maybe this summer we can ride them together. Either here, or if we get a share in the Hamptons. Biking to the beach together could be a lot of fun.”
I blinked again. After I got over the fact that Darren wanted to buy me a bike, which I admit is a weird gift, I realized what a thoughtful gift it actually was. He wanted to get me something that showed me he planned to be together throughout the spring and summer too. If I accepted it, was I agreeing to the same thing? Did I want to agree to the same thing? I thought about bike riding with him—it would probably be a lot of fun. And the idea of going into a share house with Darren instead of just by myself was really appealing. I liked my life with Darren in it, and I was pretty sure I’d continue to like it. More and more, in fact.
“This is a huge gift,” I said.
“Well, your bike will be a little smaller than mine,” he answered.
I laughed. “Do the colors have to match?”
He scratched his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “But let’s go ask?” He said it like a question, like he wasn’t a hundred percent sure I’d accept this gift, or his suggestion to go into the bike shop.
I took his gloved hand in mine. “Yes, let’s,” I said. “And if I forget to say it later, thank you.”
I’d planned to give him a bottle of his favorite bourbon for Valentine’s Day, but I quickly changed my mind.
“By the way,” I told him, spotting a sign as we walked in the door. “I’m returning the Valentine’s Day gift I was going to give you.”
He looked at me with questions in his eyes.
“I’m getting us matching helmets instead.” I pointed to the sign that said: Cold Weather Sale: Two for the price of one!
He smiled and then leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I knew you were my kind of girl,” he said.
And I was starting to think he was right.
A week after Valentine’s Day, my cell phone rang with a long-distance number on it. I didn’t recognize the country code, and—amazingly—you weren’t the first person I thought it could be. I’d figured maybe someone from one of the stations in Europe that was licensing our show was trying to get Phil and couldn’t find him at the office so was trying my cell. (I know, not likely.) I picked up the way I did at work.
“Hello, this is Lucy Carter,” I said.
The line was quiet.
“Hello?” I said again.
“Luce?” It was you. It was your voice. I felt it deep in my stomach. My name on your lips vibrated through my whole body, and I was glad I was sitting in my desk chair already because I didn’t think my legs would’ve been able to support me.
“Gabe?” I said.
I heard you sniffle over the phone.
“Are you okay, Gabe? What’s going on?”
“I have a black eye,” you said. “And a gash in my cheek. My lip is split. And my ribs are bruised.”
My heartbeat was speeding up now. “Where are you? What happened?”
“They tried to take my camera, and I wouldn’t give it to them, so they beat me up until some U.S. soldiers stopped them.”
“Are you in Baghdad?” I asked.
“Yeah,” you said. “I’m in the green zone now. I’m safe, I’m okay. I just . . . I just needed to hear your voice. I hope it’s okay that I called.”
“Of course it’s okay,” I said. My eyes were welling with tears at the thought of you broken and bleeding and wanting to talk to me. I wondered, if I were hurt and shaken, who would make me feel better—you or Darren. Or maybe it would be Kate. Or my parents. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“You’re doing it,” you said. “You’re there, you’re talking to me. When those guys were on top of me, all I kept thinking was: What if I never hear Lucy’s voice again? And I’m okay, and I’m hearing your voice. So it’s good. The universe is good.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. What to say. After all those months of silence, here you were, hurting and missing me too.
“Will you be back in New York any time soon?” I asked.
“I think this summer,” you said. “The Associated Press is making me take next week off, and I think I’m going to go see my mom. Then I have vacation time coming this summer. I was thinking about visiting then. I miss everyone. I miss you the most.”