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Authors: Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel (18 page)

BOOK: In Five Years: A Novel
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Chapter Thirty-Three

Intraperitoneal chemotherapy and gardenias bring us into late November. The former is a more invasive form of chemo, where a port through which drugs are administrated is essentially sewn into the abdominal cavity. It’s more direct than previous rounds, and it requires Bella to lie flat on her back during the procedure. She’s nauseous constantly, and throws up violently. The gardenias have somehow become our wedding flower—even though their life span is approximately five and a half minutes.

I’m dealing with the flowers on the phone at work when Aldridge stops by my office. I hang up on the florist with no explanation.

“I just got off an interesting phone call with Anya and Jordi,” he tells me. He sits in one of my round gray chairs.

“Oh yeah?”

“I imagine you know what I’m going to say,” he says.

“I don’t.”

“Think about it.”

I rearrange a notepad and paperweight on my desk. “They don’t want to go public.”

“Bingo. They’ve changed their minds.” He clasps his hands and sets them on my desk. “I need to know if you’ve had any further contact with them.”

“I haven’t,” I say. Just that one dinner, in which I could feel Anya’s resistance. “But to tell you the truth, I’m not altogether convinced going public right now is the right move.”

“For who?” Aldridge asks.

“All of us,” I say. “I think the company, under their guidance, will grow increasingly profitable. I think they will employ us now, because they trust us, and I think when they eventually do go public, everyone will make a lot more money.”

Aldridge takes his hands back. His face is unreadable. I keep mine steady.

“I’m surprised.”

I feel my stomach tighten into familiar knots. I’ve spoken out of turn.

“And impressed,” he says. “I didn’t think you were a gut ­lawyer.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

Aldridge sits back. “I hired you because I could tell no one would ever get a mistake by you. Your work is meticulous. You read every single line of every single paragraph and you know the law backward and forward.”

“Thank you.”

“But even that, as we know, is not enough. All the preparedness in the world cannot stop the unexpected from happening. Truly great lawyers know every inch of their deal, but often they make decisions based on something else—the presence of an unknown force that, if listened to, will betray exactly the way the tide is turning. That’s what you did with Jordi and Anya, and you were right.”

“I was?”

Aldridge nods. “They’re hiring us to replace in-house counsel, and they’d like you to head up the team.”

My eyes widen. I know what this means. This is the case, the client. This is the thing I need before I make junior partner.

“One thing at a time,” Aldridge says, reading me. “But congratulations.”

He stands, so do I. He shakes my hand. “And yes,” he says. “If this goes well, yes.”

I check the clock: 2:35 p.m. I want to call Bella, but she had a session this morning and I know she’ll be asleep.

I try David.

“Hey,” he says. “What’s wrong?”

I realize I’ve never called him during the day before. If I have something to tell him, I always email, or I just wait.

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Oh—” he starts, but I cut him off.

“Aldridge just gave me my junior partner case.”

“You’re kidding!” David says. “That’s great.”

“It’s the women who run Yahtzee. They don’t want to sell right now, but they want me to head up legal.”

“I’m so proud of you,” David says. “Will it still involve being in California?”

“Probably a little bit, but we haven’t gotten there yet. I’m just excited because it’s the right thing, you know? Like I felt it. I
knew
it was the right thing.”

I hear background talking. David doesn’t answer immediately. “Yeah,” he says. “Good.” Then: “Hang on.”

“Me?”

“No,” he says. “No. Listen, I have to go. Let’s celebrate tonight. Whenever you want. Email Lydia, and she’ll make a reservation.” He hangs up.

I feel lonely then, the sensation of which spreads out like a fever, until the whole of my body is afflicted. I shouldn’t. David is supportive. He’s encouraging and understanding. He wants me to succeed. He cares about my career. He’ll sacrifice for me to have what I want. I know this is the covenant we made: that we will not get in each other’s ways.

But, sitting here at my desk, I realize something else. We’ve been on these parallel tracks, David and I. Moving constantly forward in space but never actually touching, for fear of throwing each other off course. Like if we were aligned in the same direction, we’d never have to compromise. But the thing about parallel tracks is you can be inches apart, or miles. And lately it feels like the width between David and me is extraordinary. We just didn’t notice because we were still looking at the same horizon. But it dawns on me that I want someone in my way. I want us to collide.

I call Lydia. I ask her to make a reservation at Dante, an Italian café in the West Village we both love. 7:30 p.m.

Chapter Thirty-Four

I arrive at the restaurant—a corner one, tiny and candlelit, with old-fashioned red-checkered tablecloths—and David is already there, bent over his phone. He has on a blue sweater and jeans. The hedge fund is a less dressy environment than the bank he worked at before, and he can get away with jeans much of the time.

“Hi,” I say.

He looks up and smiles. “Hey. Traffic was a nightmare, right? I’m trying to figure out why they closed down Seventh Avenue. We haven’t been here in a long time. Since we first started dating,” he says.

David and I were introduced through my old colleague, Adam. We both worked as clerks at the same time in the DA’s office. The hours were long and the pay was shitty and neither one of us was particularly suited for that kind of environment.

For about six months, I remember having a crush on Adam. He was from New Jersey, liked sitcoms from the seventies, and knew how to get the temperamental coffee maker to deliver a cappuccino. We spent a lot of time together at work, bent over our desks eating five-dollar ramen from the food truck downstairs. He threw a party for his birthday at this bar I’d never been to—Ten Bells on the Lower East Side. It was dark and candlelit. With wood tables and barstools. We ate cheese and drank wine and split bills we could not afford on credit cards we hoped we could one day pay off.

David was there—cute and a little bit quiet—and he asked to buy me a drink. He worked at a bank, and had gone to school with Adam. They had even been roommates their first year in New York.

We talked about the insane prices of rent, how it was impossible to find good Mexican food in New York, and our mutual love of
Die Hard
.

But I was still focused on Adam. I had hoped that his birthday might be the night. I had on tight jeans and a black top. I thought we’d flirt—scratch that, I thought we
had
been flirting—and that maybe we’d go home together.

Before closing, Adam sauntered over to us and slung an arm over David’s shoulders. “You guys should get each other’s numbers,” he said. “Could be a match here.”

I remember feeling devastated. That stabbing sensation you feel when the curtain is pulled back and what stands before you on the stage is the wide expanse of nothing. Adam was not into me. He had just made that very, very clear.

David laughed nervously. He stuck his hands in his pockets. Then he said: “How about it?”

I gave him my number. He called the next day, and we went out the following week. Our relationship built slowly, bit by bit. We went for a drink, then a dinner, then a lunch, then a Broadway show he had been gifted tickets to. We slept together on that date, the fourth. We dated for two and a half years before we moved in together. When we did, we kept all of my bedroom furniture and half of his living room furniture and opened a joint bank account for household expenses. He went to Trader Joe’s because I thought—and think—the lines are too long, and I bought the paper goods off Amazon. We RSVP’d to weddings, threw dinner parties with catered spreads, and climbed the ladders of our careers, an arm’s length away from each other. We were, weren’t we? An arm’s length away? If you can reach out and hold the other person’s hand, does the distance matter? Is simply being able to see someone valuable?

“A pipe burst on the corner of Twelfth Street,” I say. I take off my coat and sit down, letting the warmth of the restaurant begin to thaw out my bones. We’re well into November, now. And the weather has turned with us.

“I ordered a bottle of Brunello,” he says. “We liked it the last time we were here.”

David keeps a spreadsheet of really great meals we’ve had—what we drank and what we ate—for future reference. He keeps it accessible on his phone for such situations.

“David—” I start. I exhale. “The florist ordered us three thousand gardenias.”

“What for?”

“The wedding,” I say.

“I’m aware of that,” he tells me. “But why?”

“I don’t know. Some mix-up at the florist. They’re all going to be brown by the time we take any photos. They last for like two hours.”

“Well if it’s their mistake, they should cover the cost. Did you speak with them?”

I take my napkin and fold it over my pants. “I was on the phone with them but had to hang up to deal with work.”

David takes a sip of water. “I’ll handle it,” he says.

“Thanks.” I clear my throat. “David,” I say. “Before I say this, you can’t get mad at me.”

“That’s impossible to guarantee, but okay.”

“I’m serious.”

“Just say it,” he says.

I exhale. “Maybe we should postpone the wedding.”

He looks at me in confusion but something else, too. In the back of his eyes, behind the pupils and the firing optic nerve, is relief. Confirmation. Because he’s known, hasn’t he? He’s suspected that I’d let him down.

“Why do you say that?” he asks, measured.

“Bella is sick,” I say. “I don’t think she’ll be able to make it. I don’t want to get married without her.”

David nods. “So what are you saying? You want more time?” He shakes his head.

“That we postpone till the summer. Maybe even get the venue we want.”

“We don’t want this venue?” David sits back. He’s irritated. It’s not an emotion he wears often. “Dannie,” he says. “I need to ask you something.”

I stay perfectly still. I hear the wind outside howling. Ushering in the impending freeze.

“Do you really want to get married?”

Relief sputters and then floods my veins like a faucet after a water outage. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, of course.”

Our wine comes then. We busy ourselves with witnessing and then participating: the uncorking and tasting and pouring and toasting. David congratulates me on Yahtzee.

“Are you sure?” he says, picking the thread back up. “Because sometimes I don’t . . .” He shakes his head. “Sometimes I’m not so sure.”

“Forget about my suggestion,” I say. “It was dumb. I shouldn’t have brought it up. Everything is already set.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

We order, but we barely touch our food. We both know the truth of what sits now between us. And I should be scared, I should be terrified, but the thing I keep thinking, the thing that makes me answer affirmative, is that he didn’t ask the other question, the one I cannot conceive.

What happens if she doesn’t make it?

Chapter Thirty-Five

The chemo is brutal. Far, far worse than the last round. Standing up is hard for Bella now, and she doesn’t leave the apartment except for treatment. She sits in bed, emailing with the gallery, looking over digital exhibits. I visit her in the mornings sometimes. Svedka lets me in, and I sit on the edge of the bed, even as she’s sleeping.

She starts to lose her hair.

My wedding dress arrives. It fits. It even looks good. The saleslady was right, the neckline isn’t as bad as I thought it was.

David does not mention the wedding to me for a week. For a week, I leave emails from the planner unanswered, dodge calls, hold off on writing checks. And then I come home from work to find him at the dining room table, a bowl of pasta and two salads set out in front of him.

“Hey,” he says. “Come sit.”
Hey. Come sit.

Aldridge said I have a good gut, but I always thought the concept of intuition was bullshit. All you are feeling is an absorption of the facts. You are assessing all the information you have: words, body language, environment, the proximity of your human form to a moving vehicle, and deriving a conclusion. It is not my gut that leads me to sit down at that table knowing what it coming. It is the truth of what is.

I sit.

The pasta looks cold. It’s been out a long time.

“I’m sorry I’m late.”

“You’re not late,” he says. He’s right. We didn’t schedule anything tonight, and it’s only eight-thirty. This is the time I’m usually home.

“This looks good,” I say.

David exhales. At least he’s not going to make me wait for it.

“Look,” he says. “We need to talk.”

I turn to face him. He looks tired, withdrawn, the same temperature as the food before us.

“Okay,” I say.

“I—” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe I’m the one who has to do this.” His tone sounds just a little bit bitter.

“I’m sorry.”

He ignores me. “Do you know what this feels like?”

“No,” I admit. “I don’t.”

“I love you,” he says.

“I love you, too.”

He shakes his head. “I love you, but I’m sick of being the person who fits in your life but not your . . . fuck it, your heart.”

I feel it in my body. It punches me right there, right on the tender underside.

“David,” I say. My stomach clenches. “You do.”

He shakes his head. “You may love me, but I think we both know you don’t want to marry me.”

I hear Bella’s words echoed, here, with David.
You’re not in love with him.

“How can you say that? We’re engaged, we’re planning a wedding. We’ve been together for seven and a half years.”

“And we’ve been engaged for five. If you wanted to marry me, you would have already.”

“But Bella—”

“It’s not about Bella!” he says. He raises his voice, another thing he never does. “It’s not. If it were. God, Dannie, I feel horrible about all of this. I know what she means to you. I love her, too. But what I’m saying is . . . it’s not the issue. This isn’t happening because she got sick. You were dragging your heels way before that.”

“We were busy,” I say. “We were working. Life. That was
both
of us.”

“I asked the question!” David says. “You knew where I stood. I was trying to be patient. How long am I supposed to wait?”

“Until the summer,” I say. I smooth a napkin down in my lap. Focus on the plan. “What is the big deal with six months?”

“Because it’s not just six months,” he says. “In the summer, there will be something else, some other reason.”

“There won’t!” I say.

“There will! Because you don’t really want to marry me.”

My shoulders shake. I can feel myself crying. Tears run down my face in cool, icy tracks. “Yes I do.”

“No,” he says. “You don’t.” But he’s looking at me, and I can tell he’s not convinced of his own argument, not entirely.

He’s asking me to prove him wrong. And I could. I can tell that if I wanted to, I could convince him. I could keep crying. I could reach for him. I could say all the things I know he needs to hear. I could lay out the evidence. That I dream about marrying him. That every time he walks into a room my stomach tightens. I could tell him the things I love about him: the curl of his hair and how warm his torso is, and how I feel at home in his heart.

But I can’t. It would be a lie. And he deserves more than that—he deserves everything. This is the thing, the only thing, I have to offer him. The truth. Finally.

“David,” I say. Start. “I don’t know why. You’re perfect for me. I love our life together. But—”

He sits back. He tosses his napkin onto the table. The proverbial towel.

We sit in silence for what feels like minutes. The clock on the wall ticks forward. I want to throw it out the window. Stop. Stop moving. Stop marching us forward. Everything terrible lies ahead.

The moment stretches so far it threatens to break. Finally, I speak. “What now?” I ask.

David pushes back his chair. “Now you leave,” he says.

He goes into the bedroom and closes the door. I take the food and put it, mindlessly, into containers. I wash the dishes. I put them away.

Then I go to sit on the couch. I know I can’t be here in the morning. I take out my phone.

“Dannie?” Her voice is sleepy but strong when she answers. “What’s up?”

“Can I come over?” I ask her.

“Of course.”

I travel the twenty blocks south. She’s on the couch when I get there, not in bed. She has a colorful bandana on her head and the TV is on, an old rerun of
Seinfeld
. Comfort food.

I drop my bag down. I go to her. And then I’m crying. Big, hiccupping sobs.

“Shh,” she says. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’s okay.”

She’s wrong, of course. Nothing is okay. But it feels so good to be comforted by her now. She runs her hands through my hair, rubs circles over my back. She hushes and soothes and consoles in the way only she can.

I have held her so many times. After so many breakups and parental disappointments, but here, now, I feel like I’ve had it backward. I thought I was her protector. That she was flighty and irresponsible and frivolous. That it was my job to protect her. That I was the strong one, counterbalancing her weakness, her whimsy. But I was wrong. I wasn’t the strong one, she was. Because this is what it feels like—to take a risk, to step out of line, to make decisions not based on fact but on feeling. And it hurts. It feels like a tornado raging inside my soul. It feels like I may not survive it.

“You will,” she tells me. “You already have.”

And it’s not until she says it that I realize I’ve spoken the words out loud. We stay like this, me in a ball in her lap, her curled over me, for what feels like hours. We stay long enough to try and capture it, bottle it, and tuck it away. Save enough of it to last, enough of it for a lifetime.

Love doesn’t require a future.

For a moment in time, we release what is coming.

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