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The Light We Lost (Page 24)

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I looked down at my feet. “I’m wearing heels,” I said.

“Just a little bit of running. I’ll keep you balanced.”

So he paid the bill, and then we ran, holding hands, across the cobblestoned streets of Paris until we made it to the middle of the Pont Neuf.

“Perfect timing!” Darren said, looking at the Eiffel Tower as it once again shimmered with light.

Then he got down on one knee and pulled a tiny box out of his pants pocket, and before I could even process what was going on, “Lucy,” he said, “will you marry me?”

I felt my body flush, my stomach flip. Perhaps I should’ve expected this, but I hadn’t. And in that moment, I didn’t think about you at all. Or about the fact that Darren planned this trip without me. And didn’t seem to care about my job. And thought my dreams were cute instead of important. All I thought about was how sweet he was. How much he loved me. How much thought he’d put into this proposal, how much planning. How it felt like he was wholly and completely mine. And how much I loved all of that.

“Of course,” I said. “Absolutely. Yes.”

He stood up and tried to slip the ring on my finger—any finger—grabbing at my right hand until I offered him my left in its place.

And then we kissed, and the Eiffel Tower was still sparkling and it was the kind of romantic moment that belonged in a book or a movie or a fifteen-year-old’s diary.

I’ve wondered, since then, if you would go through that kind of trouble to propose to someone. How did you ask Alina? I don’t think you ever told me how that engagement started, just how it ended.

xlv

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A few weekends after we got home, Darren left to go to Montreal for his friend Arjit’s bachelor party and I got a call from Jay that Friday night.

“Lu?” he said, when I picked up. “Any chance you’re free on Sunday?”

I’d taken Darren’s absence as a chance to plan a Saturday morning boozy brunch with Alexis, a Saturday afternoon trip to the Met with Kate, and a Saturday night dinner in Koreatown with Julia, where we planned to cook meat on sticks while she told me about her string of less-than-stellar OkCupid dates. I’d made not one plan on Sunday. I wanted to spend it at home, cuddled on the couch with just Annie for company. I wanted to eat Cheerios out of the box, which Darren thought was uncouth, and watch reruns of 90210, and stay in my pajamas until at least two p.m.

I sighed. “I am, what’s up?” I asked.

I could imagine Jay scratching his scruff of a beard on the other side of the phone. “So . . . would you be able to do me a huge favor?”

Jay wasn’t the kind of person who called in favors. Hardly ever. The fact he was asking actually made me a bit nervous.

“For you, Jay?” I said. “Of course. What do you need?”

“Would you come to my lab for family day? Vanessa’s coming, of course, but . . . there are going to be lots of kids there and you and I haven’t really talked about this, but we’ve been trying, Vanessa and I, to have kids. And it’s been over a year. And I just think it’ll be easier for her if you’re there too. So, would you?”

Here’s what I love about my brother: When he finally asked me for a favor, he didn’t ask for himself. He asked for Vanessa.

“Of course,” I said.

And so I went out to New Jersey and spent Sunday afternoon touring Jay’s lab and watching him and the other researchers perform experiments for the kids. It was clear that family day was really “kids day,” perhaps conceived as a way to get children interested in science or give them a chance to visit their parents’ workplace, which was usually off-limits. I’m actually not sure why this was a thing, but once I got there I completely understood why it might be hard for someone who had been trying to get pregnant to go alone.

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I wasn’t sure quite how much I was supposed to know, so I didn’t say anything to Vanessa about kids at all. But when we were both standing in the back of a group, watching Jay wow elementary schoolers with a clock reaction—his favorite, the one that went from clear to orange to black—Vanessa said to me, “I’ve stopped taking walks in the park.”

I turned. “You have?” I asked.

She nodded. “It’s just so hard to see the strollers and the playgrounds.”

“I can imagine,” I told her, as the group in front of us ooohed when the mixture turned orange. “Have you gone to the doctor yet?”

“A few weeks ago,” she said, looking at the reaction instead of my face. “I’m on medication right now. So hopefully . . .”

I glanced over at her. “I’m sure it’ll happen,” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with needing a little help. A lot of people go through this sort of thing and end up pregnant.”

The clock reaction turned black, and Vanessa looked at me. “I know,” she said. “I just never imagined I would be one of them.”

She excused herself to go to the bathroom after that, and I wandered over to a table that looked like it had been set up for an experiment you could do at home, with bottles of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and yeast. I’d never seen Jay do this one, so I wasn’t quite sure what would happen when they mixed together. I stared at the ingredients, trying to puzzle it out.

“Foam,” a voice said.

I looked next to me, and one of Jay’s colleagues was there. I hadn’t met him yet, but he was wearing a lab coat and a name tag. Dr. Christopher Morgan. He was tall, like you, with curly hair, like you, but that’s where the similarities ended. He had dark eyes, dark hair, and a broad nose that was balanced perfectly by a squared-off chin.

“Hi,” I said to him. “I’m Lucy Carter, Jason’s sister.”

He squinted at me. “I see it,” he said. “In the eyebrows.” Then he smiled. “Don’t tell your brother, but they look better on a girl. I’m Chris, by the way.”

I laughed. “I won’t tell,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

Chris walked to the other side of the table and started tightening the cap on the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. “No one seems too interested in my experiment. I thought it would be cool if I showed the kids something they could do at home, but they seem to be more interested in the ones that don’t use kitchen ingredients. I guess I don’t know kids too well.”

He looked about my age. Maybe a year or so older. I figured he probably didn’t have kids—maybe not nieces or nephews either.

“I’m interested,” I told him. “I’d love to see your foam.”

He looked over at me. “Really?” he asked. “You would?”

“Sure,” I responded. But as I was saying it, I wondered if I was flirting with him. Or were we just talking? The diamond on my ring finger felt instantly heavy.

“Well, then,” he said, unscrewing the top. “Some foam, coming right up.”

Chris asked me questions as he poured the ingredients into beakers: where I lived, what I did, how I got to New Jersey that day. I found myself answering without mentioning Darren once. I knew this wasn’t good.

“You know,” he said, “I happen to visit New York City a lot. Maybe next time I come, we could grab a drink.”

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“I . . .” I said. And then I lifted up my left hand. “I’m so sorry, but I’m engaged.”

“Oh,” he said. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“No, no,” I said, cutting him off. “Truly, it’s my fault if I gave you the wrong impression.”

Chris looked at my hand again, then back at the ingredients in front of him. “Do you want to add the yeast?” he asked finally.

I smiled, and I did, and we made foam. But as I drove back with Vanessa and Jay to their house later that day, I couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been engaged. Would I have given Chris my number? Would he and I have met for a drink? Would I have tasted something new and wonderful in his kiss?

Dating Darren for so long, right after dating you, it made me forget that there were other men. Tons of other men. And my mind went back to the conversation Kate and I had about Liz and her fire metaphors. What if I was cutting off all other possibilities too soon? Should I have tried looking for a bonfire and sparkler and whatever else Liz told Kate about?

But then I got home, and Darren was there waiting with presents for me from Montreal, and we made spaghetti carbonara together and walked Annie and laughed at the ridiculous things the guys had done during the bachelor party, and I thought: This is it. This is what I want. But I think back on that day sometimes and I wonder if maybe my gut was telling me something that neither my brain nor my heart wanted to acknowledge. Would we still be here now, like this, if I had listened?

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People say rain on a wedding day is good luck. I think someone somewhere just made that up so brides wouldn’t feel so bad when they woke up to a gloomy, overcast sky the day they were getting married.

That’s what our wedding was like, Darren’s and mine. The sun was trying so hard to peek through the clouds, but it never quite made it. We got married six months after Darren proposed—Thanksgiving weekend 2006. He said he couldn’t wait a minute longer to be my husband, and I was so swept up by the romance of it all that I agreed wholeheartedly. I was twenty-six years old. Darren was thirty-one. In addition to Darren’s three sisters and my sister-in-law Vanessa, I had three more bridesmaids: Kate, Alexis, and Julia.

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