Home > The Light We Lost(13)

The Light We Lost(13)
Author: Jill Santopolo


Darren insisted on picking me up at my apartment for our date. He was wearing a suit and his hair was combed back, away from his face. I’d worn a summer dress to work that day—it was new, yellow-and-white seersucker—and I was still wearing it, with a pair of sandals, but he seemed much dressier than I was.

He must’ve seen me looking at his suit, because he said, “I-banker’s uniform. I didn’t have time to change.”

I smiled. “You look nice in a suit.” As I said it, I realized he did. His shoulders were broader than his waist, and the suit was perfectly tailored to accentuate that fact.

I almost offered to change into something fancier, but before I had the chance he said, “You look nicer in that dress. In fact, I’d bet if we took a poll of completely objective humans about the niceness factor of our respective outfits, you’d win.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Niceness factor of our respective outfits?” I repeated.

“That’s the technical term,” he said.

He wasn’t you. He absolutely wasn’t you. He was older, for one thing, twenty-nine. And he was calmer, grounded. Solid, Julia called him. And he was the only one who’d been able to make me laugh since you left. That counted for a lot.

When he crooked his elbow and said, “Mademoiselle?” I linked my arm with his and closed my apartment door behind me. I was actually looking forward to dinner with him.


After dinner that night, Darren said he would walk me home, that it was the gentlemanly thing to do. He even walked on the street side of the sidewalk, so he would block me in the event that a car came zooming down the street and splashed through a puddle. It would drench him and not me, he explained.

“I see,” I told him. “What about ladies? What are we supposed to do?”

“Nothing you’re not already doing,” he said, which made me smile again.

Then he cleared his throat. “You know, I was a tour guide at Penn and happen to be qualified to give tours of Prospect Heights as well.”

“Oh really?” I asked, not quite sure if he was joking.

He began talking in an upper-crust accent, like maybe he was someone who had donated a building to a university. I immediately started laughing. He sounded like I imagined the Schermerhorns or the Havermeyers or the Hartleys did, those families that had buildings named after them on campus. I always wondered about them when we were at school. I pictured them living in huge mansions in someplace like Armonk and summering on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Schermerhorn wore those red pants that everyone wears on Nantucket and had a perma-tan and an underbite. And Mrs. Havermeyer never left the house without three-carat diamonds in each ear. She had three children who were raised by three different nannies, who shaped each of their personalities quite differently. She was oddly obsessed with the number three. And the Hartleys had show dogs. Corgis, like the queen of England.

I guess I could probably find out about them online now, if I wanted, but that would ruin the stories I made up in my head. I haven’t thought about those stories in years.

So Darren turned to me and, in a voice like a Schermerhorn, said, “That large brownstone is the home of Ashton Cranston Wellington Leeds the Fourth, of the Kensington Leedses. The nobler side of the family. Everyone knows the Glasgow Leedses are gamblers and crooks. And horse thieves. They use teaspoons for their soup and dinner forks for dessert. Utter blasphemy. In fact, there’s been a movement to hyphenate the family name to Kensington-Leeds. You know, for the sake of disambiguation.”

I laughed so hard at that one I almost snorted, which made me laugh even more.

He kept going in his Schermerhorn voice. “I’ve heard that’s why Julia Louis-Dreyfus hyphenated. Those other Dreyfuses were terrible. Same with Wal-Mart. Those other Marts? Forget about it. Disambiguation is very important.”

Every time I tried to respond, my words were broken up with giggles. Then Darren and I rounded the corner toward my apartment. He stopped in front of my building. I stopped too. The laughter died in my throat when I saw the way he looked at me. He was going to kiss me. Panic constricted my lungs.

I hadn’t kissed anyone since you left.

I hadn’t wanted to kiss anyone since you left.

“I . . .” I started, but I didn’t quite know where to go with that.

Darren must’ve seen the look on my face, though, and instead of kissing my lips, he leaned forward and kissed my forehead.

“Thanks for a really fun night,” he said. “I hope we can do it again.”

I nodded, and he smiled.

“I’ll call you,” he said.

I could breathe again.

“I’d like that,” I answered. Because I did have a fun night with him. And because it was better to spend time with him than to sit home, alone, or get trashed with Alexis.

And as he walked away, I realized I was disappointed that he was leaving. My world seemed a little brighter while he shared it with me, and I liked that. A lot.

Then I turned to walk into my apartment and thought again about you.


The next day I spoke to Alexis. “What did you tell Darren about me?” I asked her.

“Me?” she said. “Nothing.”

I sighed. I’d been going over the forehead kiss in my mind all morning, and I realized that someone must’ve said something. Someone must’ve told him not to move too fast.

“Okay, not you,” I said. “Sabrina? What did she tell him?”

Alexis took a deep breath. I could imagine her running her hand through her hair on the other side of the phone. I haven’t seen her in about a year, since my last work trip to LA. She was such a huge part of my world back then, and just . . . isn’t anymore. It’s kind of sad that I don’t really miss her. I guess people change, lives change. We know that better than anybody.

“She told him you just got out of something serious,” Alexis said over the phone. “She told him to be patient. Not to break you.”

I cringed, even though Sabrina was probably right in saying all those things.

“And what did he say?” I asked.

“He said not only would he not break you, that he’d help put you back together.”

I leaned my head against the back of my couch. “Well,” I said. “That’s bold. What’s his deal? Does he have some sort of savior complex? A need to be a hero?”

“He’s really a good guy,” Alexis told me. “His friends are pretty much asshats, but he’s really decent. Not that Gabe wasn’t, but . . . I guess I’m just saying . . . give him a shot, Lu.”

I felt tears welling up in my eyes again at the mention of your name. I needed to stop that from happening, but I had no idea how.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.

“It takes a guy to get over a guy,” Alexis said then. “And believe me, I should know.”

I let out a short burst of sound that was caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

“Seriously,” Alexis said, “give him a chance. If nothing else, he’ll show you that there are other good, smart people out there who think you’re pretty great.”

I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. “I’ll give him a chance,” I told her.

“Nothing more I can ask for,” she said. “Except maybe plans for next Friday night? You know that hot guy I met on the L train? He’s in a piece of performance art on the Lower East Side. Can you go with me?”

“Is this the one with the green hair?” I asked.

“Ew, no,” Alexis said. “Did I not tell you? He picked his nose at dinner. Done. This is the one with the Buddy Holly glasses and the beard.”

“Got it,” I said. “Count me in.” Even though really the last thing I wanted to do was go to see performance art starring some wacko Alexis met on the subway. But it was better than missing you.


Darren didn’t try to kiss me again. Not the next time we hung out, not the time after that, not the time after that either. And then it was almost Halloween.

“Want to come with me to a Halloween party this weekend?” he asked, when he called me a few days after our last date. “I promise it’ll be fun.”

And that was the thing: with Darren it always was fun. Being with him was easy. It was relaxed—and relaxing. It was comfortable. And I found that I was looking forward more and more to seeing him. And thinking less and less about you. Which was good, because I hadn’t heard from you again—or tried to contact you myself. I felt saner when I wasn’t waiting for a message from you. You weren’t out of my life completely, though. Once in a while I’d see your published photographs in the New York Times—your name would jump out at me as I rode on the subway. Every time it happened, my heart raced and I felt vaguely ill and off for the rest of the day. But I never felt that way around Darren.

“Halloween party?” I asked. “Okay, sounds good. Do we need costumes?”

“Do we need costumes, she asks!” he said, as if he were telling someone else about our conversation, even though he lived alone. We both did. “We absolutely need costumes,” he said. “I was thinking . . . Prisoner of Azkaban? We could be Harry and Hermione? Or maybe I could be Spider-Man and you could be MJ?”

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