The Light We Lost (Page 36)

“No!” she said, as if that were the most ludicrous idea anyone had ever come up with. “I’m the fairy! Mommy’s the queen.”

You looked over at me as I turned off the oven and walked toward you two.

After she’d put crowns on both of our heads, Violet slipped on her fairy wings and said. “Okay, king and queen, I’m hiding in your castle now! Count to twenty-three and then come find me!”

Twenty-three? you mouthed to me.

I shrugged. Violet ran off and we started counting.

“Louder!” she yelled from the hallway.

We’d gotten up to thirteen when I heard her say, “Hey! There’s a moat in this castle!”

I stopped counting. “A pretend moat?” I called.

“A real one!” she called back. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of small feet jumping in a puddle.

I ran out of the living room to the hallway. “Where are you?” I asked.

“It’s Hide and Go Seek Castle!” Violet said. “I can’t tell!”

She’d left the door to the laundry room open, though, and the puddle was expanding into the hall. “Oh, God,” I said, running toward the puddle.

You raced past me to Violet. “Found you!” you said to her. “I think this is the part where the king picks up the fairy and makes her fly!” You lifted Violet up and out of the puddle.

“Higher!” she shouted, laughing. “Fairies fly higher.”

I stood in front of the laundry room, staring. S**t, I thought, S**t, s**t, s**t. The water was still coming from the back of the washing machine. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Darren.

“You okay?” he answered after the first ring.

“Me, yes,” I said. “The laundry room, no. There’s a huge puddle. I think the washing machine’s broken. Who’s our plumber?”

“Oh, hell,” he said. “I’ll e-mail you the number. Unless you want me to call?”

“No, no,” I said. “I’ll do it. Should I turn it off? Unplug it?”

“I have no idea,” Darren said. “Ask the plumber. I just e-mailed you. Let me know how it goes.”

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I hung up and flicked to my e-mail. You came flying by with Violet. “Where’s your fuse box?” you said. “You need to cut the electricity to the washing machine.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, checking for Darren’s e-mail. “I was going to ask the plumber.”

“I’m sure,” you said, flying Violet in a circle. “You need to turn off the washing machine to stop the water from running, and you don’t want to deal with anything electric while standing in a puddle.”

“Oh,” I said. “That makes sense. It’s in the kitchen.”

You flew Violet into the kitchen, and then said, “Fairy coming in for a landing!” as you put her down on the countertop.

“More flying!” she said.

“The king needs to fix a few things,” you told her. You still had your crown on your head, only now it was slightly crooked.

She and I both watched as you adjusted your crown and flipped the fuse that said laundry room.

“Should I call the plumber now?” I asked.

You were already taking off your socks and shoes. “Let me take a look,” you said, rolling up your pant legs.

I picked Violet up off the counter and carried her to the laundry room, where we watched you pull the washing machine away from the wall and fix a loose connector in the hose. Since the water had stopped running, the puddle was already smaller, thanks to the drain in the middle of the laundry room floor.

“That should take care of it,” you said. “You may still want to call a plumber to be sure, but you can also try running the washing machine again and see whether or not it leaks.”

You stood up with that ridiculous crown still on your head. This is what life would be like if things had gone another way, I thought.

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“You okay?” you asked, looking at me funny.

I smiled. “Thanks to you,” I said. “You’re more knight in shining armor than king, I think. Thanks for saving my laundry room.”

You laughed. “I’d hate to trade in my crown, but I have always liked Lancelot.” Did you want me to go there? To Lancelot and Guinevere? I have to assume you did.

I swallowed, wishing you couldn’t read me as well as you could, then turned to Violet, who was still in my arms. “Well, my fairy princess, I think our cookies are probably cool enough to eat. Do you want one?”

She squirmed down to the floor and went running into the kitchen shouting, “Yes!”

“A cookie, my queen?” you said, straightening my crown.

I looked into your eyes and saw the sadness there, even though you were trying to camouflage it. In the chaos of the laundry room flood, I’d lost sight of why you’d come. “How are you doing?” I asked.

“Better,” you said. “Thank you for today.”

“I’m glad—and you’re welcome.” I wanted to reach out and hug you, like I had when you walked in, but I held myself back. Guinevere’s married to Arthur, after all. Instead I said, “We should get to the kitchen before Violet tries climbing the cabinets.”

And then we sat down with Violet and ate the cookies the three of us had baked together.

• • •

I NEVER TOLD DARREN that you and I stayed in e-mail touch for a while after that. And then you were traveling so much I could barely keep track: the Philippines, Russia, North Korea, South Africa. The time between our messages got longer and longer until I realized it’d been months since we last spoke. Violet seemed to forget about you, for the most part. But every once in a while she’d ask if she could put her hair in the laundry, and I’d pause for a moment to send up a wish to the universe, hoping that you were safe and happy.

lxv

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The fall after you fixed my washing machine—and you had fixed it, I told you that, right?—I got a call from Kate that I found unsettling. Darren was watching golf and the kids were playing in the living room. Annie was nosing under the couch, probably on the hunt for the Cheerios Liam seemed to drop everywhere. I was trying to get through a backlog of New Yorker magazines and thinking that I should just cancel my subscription because seeing the pile grow every week made me feel inadequate. And reminded me how little time I actually had to myself, time that wasn’t consumed by work or family.

“What are your thoughts on crotchless panties?” Kate asked when I picked up.

“Um,” I said, making sure that Liam and Violet were still building a tall tower before I walked into the kitchen. “I’ve never really thought much about them, but I guess they seem a little useless to me? Like lensless glasses or cupless bras.”

“Are those a thing?” Kate asked. “Cupless bras?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “I was just making a point. Why are you asking about crotchless panties?”

Kate sighed on the other end of the phone. “Do you ever feel like . . . I don’t know. Do you ever want to spice things up?”

“You mean sex?” I asked. This was so unlike Kate. Until this point I’d never in my life heard her utter the words crotchless panties or talk about spicing things up. Her bachelorette party was at a spa. No p***s straws allowed.

“I told Liz things with Tom just felt so . . . stale. She told me to get crotchless panties.”

This was starting to make a little more sense. Liz probably wears crotchless panties on the regular. And cupless bras, if that really is a thing. “Is it sex that’s stale?” I asked again.

Kate sighed. “It’s everything,” she said. “I take the same train into the city every morning, and the same one home each night. Tom asks me the same question every day when he gets home, two trains after me. I always wash my face while he brushes his teeth, and then while I brush my teeth, he pees. Every night. The other day I brushed my teeth before I washed my face, and it was like he didn’t know what to do. Is this forever?”

I hadn’t really thought about things feeling stale, but if I was honest with myself, sometimes they did feel a bit . . . rote, routine.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Darren calls me every day at five oh two to ask me what time I think I’ll be home. My assistant jokes about it. We’ve been buying the same brand of toilet paper—Charmin Ultra Strong—for as long as we’ve been together. Last month I wondered what would happen if I bought Charmin Ultra Soft. But I didn’t do it.”

“You should,” Kate said.

“You should take a different train,” I told her. “Get a haircut. Or maybe take a trip, alone with Tom. You can leave the girls with us for a weekend.”

“Would you really watch them for the weekend?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Do it. Book a trip.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“I’ll buy some new toilet paper,” I said.

We both laughed. Tom and Kate did leave their girls with us and go away for a weekend. And I did buy Charmin Ultra Soft. But there’s so much to do every day, so many things that have to get taken care of, that it’s easier when there’s a routine, when you don’t have to think. Even using that smidgen of extra brainpower to choose a toilet paper brand can turn things from “manageable” to “overwhelming.”

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