The Light We Lost (Page 40)

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For the next hour I read about Connie and Mellors and Hilda and Venice. I thought about how our afternoon together was like the night Connie and Mellors spent together before she traveled to Italy.

Then I heard Darren’s key in the lock.

“Mommy!” Violet came racing into the apartment.

“Mommy, Mommy!” Liam came racing after her.

They both jumped onto the couch with me and I kissed their hair.

“Daddy told a secret,” Liam informed me.

“Shh,” Violet said. “A secret means we can’t tell, Liam. Remember? It’s been a secret for a long time and we’re not even supposed to know.”

The name Linda flashed into my mind again. He couldn’t have told them anything about her, could he?

Darren dropped the kids’ bag of stuff in the entrance to the living room. “Well, they kept that quiet for all of thirty seconds.”

“We didn’t tell, Daddy,” Violet said. “Pinky promise, right Liam?”

Liam held out his little pinky.

Darren groaned. Then he disappeared up the stairs.

“Hey, wait!” I called after him. “Do I get to know this secret or not?”

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“You do!” he said. “I’m just getting something to show you.”

“How was your day?” I forced myself to ask the kids.

“Grandma and Grandpa took us to their park,” Violet said. “You remember it, right? It’s smaller than our park, but has a maze with really tall walls.”

“I do,” I told her. “And it has seesaws.”

She nodded.

“We did seesaws,” Liam said.

“But he’s littler, so Daddy needed to help so I wasn’t stuck on the bottom.” Violet jumped off the couch. “I’m going to check on my dolls.”

“Checking on my Legos,” Liam said, jumping after her.

I followed them up the stairs to find Darren. He was in the study, the room that he always reminded me would become a bedroom for a third kid if we had one, and had booted up his laptop.

“Those little stinkers,” he said, as he clicked open a few windows. “I hadn’t been planning to tell you until I’d had all the work done, but they heard me talking to my dad about it. I was trying to time it with our anniversary. Can you believe it’s almost ten years?”

“Eight,” I answered. “We’ll be married eight years in November.”

Darren smiled. “Ten since the first time we met.” Then he turned the computer so the screen faced me. “I bought the house.”

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My brain was having trouble processing what he was saying. “You what?”

“That’s the secret!” he said. “I’ve been stalking this house since the summer after Violet was born. I wanted to buy the place where we met. And I finally convinced them to sell in January.”

I was still struggling to unravel what was going on. Darren stood up and took my hand.

“I know things haven’t been the best this past year or so,” he said, “but we were so happy last summer out in East Hampton, and I thought with this house . . .”

Tears pooled in my eyes. “Oh, Darren,” I said, squeezing his hand. He really did still love me, he did still want us to work. I hadn’t been sure until that moment. But it made his affair even more confusing. Why would he be doing that while he was planning this?

He squeezed my hand back. “I’ve been secretly communicating with the Realtor, a really lovely older woman named Linda, since the fall. The weekend I said I was golfing with my friends in March, I actually went out there and closed on the house.”

The Realtor? I felt sick.

For all those months I let myself believe he was cheating on me. I created a new image of who Darren was, what he wanted, how he’d betrayed me; I thought I’d understood what was happening. I’d thought I understood him in a way he’d never understood me. But I didn’t. Not at all.

“And it’s being renovated as we speak,” he said. “The place was pretty trashed when I saw it. So did I surprise you? Did you suspect anything?”

I thought about the Darren I first fell in love with—the one who’d made me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt, the one who’d turned storm clouds into sunshine. Even though I couldn’t remember the last time we’d laughed until there were tears in our eyes, that Darren was still there, and I’d ignored him. I’d chosen to focus on what was wrong instead of what was right. And all the while he was trying to buy the house where we first met. He was trying to fix things. But he was doing it in the exact way I’d asked him not to, over and over. He’d cut me out of a big decision again.

It was all too overwhelming. I started to cry.

“You like it?” he asked. “Are those happy tears?”

“It’s beautiful,” I answered, wiping my eyes. The guilt threatened to swallow me whole. The shame.

Darren wrapped his arms around me. “Only the best for you,” he whispered into my hair. Then he kicked the door shut and kissed me with a passion I hadn’t felt from him in a long time.

I kissed him back, and for the second time in five hours, a man was taking off my shirt. For the second time, a man had his mouth on my breast. For the second time, I felt a man hard against my leg. But this time, even though my body responded, I felt numb.

• • •

“I HATED KEEPING SECRETS from you,” Darren said after, as he put my sweatshirt back on me. “But your reaction was totally worth it. Maybe next weekend we could head out there and get reacquainted with the house.”

“Great idea,” I said, making sure that my eyes were dry, that there was a smile on my face. “I love it.”

He kissed me again, and then opened the door, yelling for the kids. “Mommy knows about our new secret house! Who wants pizza for dinner to celebrate?”

I didn’t think I’d be able to eat a bite.

lxx

On Monday morning, at work, I tried to put everything out of my mind—you, that hotel room, Darren, the beach house—and concentrate on the new show I was developing. It didn’t have a name yet, but the idea was to invite famous musicians to write songs introducing kids to different aspects of government. The pilot was going to be about monarchies, and we were in talks with Elton John to compose the songs for that episode. The concept had actually come out of something Violet had said to me last Election Day—she wanted to know who I was going to vote for to be princess.

But I couldn’t focus on the call I needed to make to Elton John’s manager or the notes I was typing up on the proposed script. I needed to talk to someone about what had happened—with you and me, with Darren and me—but I felt so ashamed. I knew my brother would still love me, that Kate would still be my best friend, but I didn’t want them to change their opinion of me, even a little, when I showed them what I was capable of. And I thought they might. If I were in their position, my opinion would probably change.

Julia might understand, though. Ever since she and I went to your gallery show together, she asked about you. And since she wasn’t married, maybe she wouldn’t be as disturbed by all of it as I imagined Kate or Jason would be. I called her at her office.

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“Hey!” she said when she picked up. “I was going to call you today. I have news.”

I stretched my phone cord and looked out the window. “Good news?”

“Great news,” she said. “I gave my notice this morning.”

“You got a new job?” I asked. Julia had been looking for the last few months, but art director positions were few and far between, especially because she didn’t want to leave children’s books.

“I did.” I could hear her smiling over the phone. “You’re talking to the newest art director of Little Golden Books at Random House. I start in three weeks!”

“Congratulations!” I said. “That’s fantastic. Violet loves those Little Golden Books. We have like twenty of them.”

“Well, let me know if there are any other titles she wants. I can pull some extra copies from the book room once I start.” Julia lavishes gifts on my kids whenever she sees them. She’s probably gotten both of them half the books on their shelves.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m sure Violet will love that.”

“But you called to tell me something,” Julia said, “and I hijacked the whole conversation.”

“You didn’t hijack anything,” I said. “I was just calling to say hi.”

I couldn’t do it. Even with Julia, I couldn’t confess to what I’d done, what I’d let myself believe, what I said to you, how wrong I was. And I certainly couldn’t confess that deep inside, in spite of everything, I still wanted to leave Darren and be with you.

You just—you made me feel so alive, Gabe. I don’t even know if I can put it into words. The world seemed bigger when you were around, filled with possibility. I seemed smarter, sexier, more beautiful. You saw me in a way that no one else did. You understood who I was at my core, and you didn’t want to change me. You wanted me because of. Darren wanted me in spite of. I think that’s the best way to describe it. And it took every ounce of self-control I had not to give in to my desire to call you, to be with you. But I would never forgive myself if I hurt my kids. Even if it meant surrendering that feeling forever.

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