The Light We Lost (Page 6)
“So I want to make her something special for her birthday, since I won’t be there,” you said. “Something meaningful. Something that shows her how much I love her—how much I’ll always love her, no matter how far away I am. And this mosaic, the idea popped into my head this morning.”
My eyes flickered over the tiny photographs. “I think it’s perfect,” I said.
The apartment felt charged with emotion, from everything you told me, from the fact that you shared it, that fragile part of you. I leaned in to give you a hug, but it turned into a kiss. Our lips met briefly, then more insistently.
“Thank you for telling me,” I said softly.
You kissed me again. “Thank you for being someone I wanted to tell.”
• • •
LATER THAT NIGHT, you started gluing the kaleidoscope together. You seemed so happy in that moment, so content, that I put down my computer and quietly picked up your camera. It’s the only photograph I ever took of you. I wonder if you still have it.
As comfortable as we were together alone, as intimate as our relationship was, it took a while to get used to going to parties with you. I always felt like I was floating in your wake. It was like you had this magical spell that brought people’s attention to you, your face, your words, your stories. Our world of two became your world of one, and then expanded into a world of many in which I wasn’t as important as I’d been before. Midstory I’d slip away to get a drink or go to find someone else to talk to.
Once in a while I’d cast my eyes in your direction and see you holding court. You’d find me, eventually, when you were drunk and drained; it was like working that charm sapped all your energy. When we were alone together, you could recharge, and then we’d go out and mingle again. In those moments, it made me feel special that you chose me to recharge with.
The epitome of Gabe at a Party was that night we went to Gideon’s birthday at his parents’ apartment on Park Avenue. There was that formal library that we weren’t supposed to enter, at least not with drinks in our hands. With our balance impaired by a few too many cocktails, Gideon was worried we’d ruin the first-edition Hemingway or the signed Nabokov. And seeing the way people were drinking at the party, he probably wasn’t wrong to worry.
I’d been talking to Gideon’s girlfriend, who worked in advertising. I was interested in hearing about the life I’d once contemplated living. We were comparing methods of storytelling when I turned my head sideways to check for you—and you were gone. I assumed you went to the bathroom or to refill your drink, but then it was five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes and you hadn’t come back.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to her, when I became too distracted to participate in the conversation any longer. “But I seem to have lost my boyfriend.”
She laughed. “I imagine that happens often with him.”
I didn’t laugh with her. “Why do you say that?” I asked.
She shrugged apologetically, realizing she’d said the wrong thing. “Oh, I just meant that he’s charming. I imagine people like talking to him.”
“Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I sure do,” I said. She was right, though—that was your magic. Everyone loved talking to you. You made them feel heard, cared about, listened to. I always figured that was part of why people who wouldn’t allow anyone else to take their photograph often agreed to let you do it. You made them feel seen. You made me feel seen.
I wandered through the apartment and couldn’t find you anywhere, until I heard your voice coming from the forbidden library. I poked my head in and you were talking to a woman I didn’t know. She had red hair that curled like a lion’s mane around a delicate catlike face. My stomach dropped when I saw you leaning against the bookcase, absorbed in whatever she’d been telling you.
“There you are!” I said.
You looked up, and there was no guilt on your face. Just a smile, as if you were expecting me to join, but I was late to the appointment.
“Me?” you said. “There you are! Rachel was just telling me about the restaurant she hostesses at. She said she can get us a deal—a discount on the prix fixe menu.”
I looked over at Rachel, who was clearly less happy to see me than you were. She’d fallen under your spell. “That’s really nice of you,” I said.
Rachel smiled a tight little smile. “Nice to meet you, Gabe,” she told you. Then she lifted up her empty glass. “Going to head back to the bar for a refill. But you have my number . . . for the reservations.”
“Thanks again,” you said to her, your smile beaming her way now, instead of mine. Then she walked out of the room.
I didn’t quite know what to say. I hadn’t caught you doing anything other than talking to someone about restaurant discounts. But why were you in the library with her? Why hadn’t you come to find me?
“Whatcha doing in here?” I asked, keeping my voice light.
You crossed the room and pushed the door shut, a grin on your face. “Scouting for someplace we could do this,” you said. Then you grabbed my wrists and held them above my head as you leaned me into the bookcase and kissed me hard. “I’m going to make love to you in this library,” you told me, “while the whole party is going on outside. And I’m not going to lock the door.”
“But—” I said.
You kissed me again, and my protests stopped. I didn’t care about finding you in the library with Rachel anymore. All I cared about was your fingers tugging down the waistband of my tights and the sound of you unzipping your fly.
I wouldn’t put up with that now, and I shouldn’t have put up with it then—you placating me with a kiss, erasing my concerns with an o****m. I should’ve made you explain yourself. I should’ve called you out for flirting with someone else, for not coming to find me. But you were like a drug. When I was high on you, nothing else mattered.
“Shh,” you said, as you lifted up my skirt. I didn’t even realize I was making any noise.
I bit my lip so hard to keep from calling out as I came that when I kissed you afterward there was a smear of blood on both of our mouths.
I loved you so much—and didn’t doubt your love for me—but I’d never forgotten about Stephanie, and I think deep down I was worried that it could happen again, that you’d leave me for someone like her or like Rachel or a million other women you ran into on the subway or at Starbucks or in the grocery store. The seesaw of our relationship wasn’t always balanced. Usually we were even, usually we were equal, but once in a while I’d find myself down at the bottom, trying to spring back up, afraid that you’d jump off to be with someone else, and I’d be stuck without any chance of reaching equilibrium. But even if I’d said something in that library, I don’t think it would have changed anything.
Because it wasn’t another woman that I should’ve been worrying about.
Those doubts didn’t appear often, though. There was so much more to us, so much about us that fit together perfectly. We both cared about each other’s passions—about the careers we dreamed we’d have one day. You watched every single episode of It Takes a Galaxy, the TV show I was working on then, and gave me your thoughts on how the different aliens modeled social situations for kids. You seemed so into it that I started asking what you thought even before the shows went into production.
I didn’t have any real power, then. Not yet. But I got to review scripts and storyboards and pass along feedback to my boss. I took that responsibility more seriously than I probably needed to. When I brought scripts home, you’d act them out with me so we could talk through them together. You always asked to play Galacto, the little green guy who looks kind of like a frog. My favorite was Electra, the dark purple one with sparkly antennae. It seems fitting, somehow, that reading an It Takes a Galaxy script is what helped you tell me your dreams. The show is supposed to help children communicate their feelings, but I guess it works on adults too. I remember the episode we were working on when our conversation happened. It was the beginning of November, and we were about a third of the way through the newest season.
Galacto sits in his front yard with his head in his hands. Electra enters.
Electra: What’s wrong, Galacto? You look sad.
Galacto: My dad wants me to play on the starball team, but I hate starball!
Electra: Does he know that?
Galacto: I’m afraid to tell him. I’m afraid he won’t want to be my dad anymore if I don’t like starball as much as he does.
Electra: My dad likes starball, but I don’t, so we do other things together. Maybe you could make a list of things you and your dad both like.
Galacto: Do you think that would work? And then I wouldn’t have to play starball anymore?
Electra: I think it’s worth a try.
Galacto: Me too!
“Do you think maybe Electra should like starball and her dad shouldn’t?” I asked, when we finished reading. “You know, flip the gender stereotype a little? Maybe I should suggest that.”
“I think that’s a great idea,” you said, looking at me a beat longer than usual. In that moment it felt like you loved not only my idea, but every aspect of who I was.