The Light We Lost (Page 4)
You kept going. “Maybe the universe knew I needed to find you tonight. You’re like . . . Pegasus.”
“I’m a winged horse, like in The Iliad?” I asked you. “A male winged horse?”
“No,” you said. “You’re definitely female.”
I smiled. You continued talking.
“But Bellerophon never would have defeated the Chimera without Pegasus. Pegasus made him better,” you said. “He got to fly above everything—all of the pain, all of the hurt. And he became a great hero.”
I hadn’t understood that myth the same way. I’d read it as one about teamwork, about cooperation and partnership; I’d always liked how Pegasus had to give Bellerophon permission to ride him. But I could tell your interpretation was important to you. “Well, thank you for the compliment, I think. Though I might have preferred a comparison to Athena. Hera. Even a Gorgon.”
The corners of your mouth quirked up. “Not a Gorgon. No snakes on your head.”
I touched my hair. “You haven’t seen how I look first thing in the morning,” I said.
You looked at me like you wanted to.
“Did I ever tell you I was sorry?” you asked. “For what happened. With us. I’m not sorry that I kissed you, I mean. But”—you shrugged—“I’m sorry about what happened after. I was trying to do the right thing. With Stephanie. Life is—”
“Complicated,” I finished for you. “It’s okay. It’s forever ago now. And you did apologize. Twice.”
“I still think about you, Lucy,” you said, looking into your empty glass of whiskey. I wondered how many you’d had. “I think about that fork in the road, what would have happened if we’d taken it. Two roads diverged.”
Now I would laugh if you called us a road, but then it felt so romantic, you quoting Robert Frost to me.
I looked over at Alexis and Julia. They were watching us as they drank their martinis. You okay? Julia mouthed to me. I nodded. She tapped her watch and shrugged. I shrugged back. She nodded.
I looked at you. Gorgeous, fragile, wanting me. My birthday present from the universe, perhaps.
“The thing about roads,” I said, “is sometimes you happen upon them again. Sometimes you get another chance to travel down the same path.”
God, we were lame. Or maybe just young. So, so young.
You looked at me, then, right at me, your blue eyes glassy but still magnetic. “I’m going to kiss you,” you said, as you tipped toward me. And then you did, and it felt like a birthday wish come true.
“Will you come to my apartment tonight, Lucy?” you asked, as you tucked a rogue lock of hair behind my ear. “I don’t want to go home alone.”
I saw the sorrow in your eyes, the loneliness. And I wanted to make it better, to be your salve, your bandage, your antidote. I’ve always wanted to fix things for you. I still do. It’s my Achilles’ heel. Or perhaps my pomegranate seed. Like Persephone, it’s what keeps drawing me back.
I lifted your fingers to my lips and kissed them. “Yes,” I said, “I will.”
Later we were lying in your bed, our bodies illuminated only by the city lights leaking in around your blinds. You were the outer spoon, your arm wrapped around me, your hand resting on my bare stomach. We were tired, satiated, and still a little drunk.
“I want to quit my job,” you whispered, as if the darkness made it safe to say it out loud.
“Okay,” I whispered back, sleepily. “You can quit your job.”
You rubbed your thumb along the underside of my breast.
“I want to do something meaningful,” you said, your breath warm against my neck. “Like you talked about.”
“Mm-hm,” I answered, half asleep.
“But I didn’t get it then.”
“Get what?” I mumbled.
“It’s not only about finding beauty,” you said, your words keeping me awake. “I want to photograph all of it—happiness, sadness, joy, destruction. I want to tell stories with my camera. You understand, right, Lucy? Stephanie didn’t. But you were there. You know how that changes your view of the world.”
I rolled over so we were facing each other and gave you a soft kiss. “Of course I understand,” I whispered, before sleep pulled me under.
But I didn’t really get what you meant or know how far it would take you. That it would bring you to here, to this moment. I was drunk and tired and finally in your arms, the way I’d imagined so many times. I would have agreed to anything you asked just then.
You did quit your job, of course, to take photography classes. And we kept seeing each other, our physical connection getting even stronger the more time we spent together, finding solace, hope, strength, in each other’s embraces. We undressed in restaurant bathrooms because we couldn’t wait until we were home. We crushed each other against the sides of buildings, bricks digging into shoulders as our lips met. We took picnics to the park, complete with apple juice bottles full of white wine, and then lay together breathing in the scent of the dirt and the fresh-cut grass and each other.
“I want to know more about your dad,” I said, a few months after we reconnected, walking eyes-open into a fault line, willing to risk the earthquake.
“Not much to tell,” you answered, shifting so my head rested on your chest instead of your arm. Your voice was still light, but I could feel your muscles tense. “He’s an a*****e.”
“An a*****e how?” I asked, turning so I could wrap an arm around your stomach, holding you closer. Sometimes I got this feeling that we’d never be close enough. I wanted to climb inside your skin, inside your mind, so I could know all there was to know about you.
“My dad was . . . unpredictable,” you said slowly, as if choosing that word with the utmost care. “Once I was big enough, I protected my mom.”
I picked my head up off your chest and looked at you. I wasn’t sure what to say, how much I should ask. I wanted to know what your definition was of “big enough.” Four? Ten? Thirteen?
“Oh, Gabe,” was all I could think of. I’m sorry it wasn’t more.
“He and my mom met at art school. She said he was a beautiful sculptor, but I never saw any of his work.” You swallowed hard. “He smashed it all—every single piece—right after I was born. He wanted to design monuments, huge installations. But no one was commissioning anything from him, no one was buying his art.”
You turned to look at me. “I know it must’ve been hard for him. I can’t imagine . . .” Then you shook your head. “He gave up,” you said. “He tried to run a gallery. But he wasn’t much of a businessman. Or a salesman. He was angry all the time, volatile. I . . . I didn’t understand what giving up did to him. The power it had. One time, he took a knife to my mother’s canvas—a painting she’d been working on for months—because he said she needed to spend her time painting sunsets instead. She cried like it was her body he’d stabbed, not just her art. That’s when he left.”
I slipped my hand into yours and held it tight. “How old were you?”
“Nine,” you said, your voice soft. “I called the cops.”
My childhood had been so different from yours, so idyllically Connecticut suburban. I wasn’t sure how to respond. If we were having that conversation now, I would acknowledge the pain—both his and yours. Say that your father clearly had a hard time, that he was fighting demons, and that I’m sorry his demons became yours. Because they did, didn’t they? You’ve lived so much of your life in response to his, trying not to become him, that you ended up battling both his demons and your own.
But that day, I couldn’t process what you were saying quickly enough and I just wanted to comfort you. After a breath, what I said was, “You did the right thing.”
“I know,” you answered. Your eyes were hard. “I’ll never be like him. I’ll never hurt you like that. I’ll never act like your dreams are disposable.”
“Me neither. I’ll never act like your dreams are disposable either, Gabe,” I told you, resting my head back on your chest, kissing you through your T-shirt, trying to convey the depth of my admiration and sympathy.
“I know you won’t.” You stroked my hair. “It’s one of the many, many things I love about you.”
I sat up so I was looking at you again.
“I love you, Luce,” you said.
It was the first time you said that to me. The first time any man had. “I love you too,” I answered.
I hope you remember that day. It’s something I’ll never forget.
A few weeks after we said I love you for the first time, you and I had my place to ourselves. We’d decided to celebrate that fact by walking around in our underwear. It was sweltering out, the kind of muggy July heat that makes me wish I could spend the whole day submerged in a swimming pool, and even though the air conditioner was on full blast, the apartment was still warm. It was so big that we probably needed more than one.
“Kate’s grandparents were real estate geniuses,” you said, as we scrambled eggs half naked. “When did they buy this place?”