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Authors: Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel (6 page)

BOOK: In Five Years: A Novel
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Chapter Eight

“It’s nice to see you again,” Dr. Christine says.

The plant is still there. I assume, now, that it’s fake. Too much time has passed.

“Yes, well,” I say. “I don’t really know who else to tell.”

“Tell what?”

The truth of what I have learned. That what I saw in that apartment is from the future. It will occur in exactly five months and nineteen days, on December 15. I graduated as valedictorian of Harriton High, magna cum laude from Yale, and top of my law class at Columbia. I’m not gullible, nor am I a fool. What happened wasn’t a dream; it was a premonition—a prophecy sketched to life— and now I need to know how and why it happened, so I can make sure it never does.

“I met the man,” I tell her. “From the dream.”

She swallows. It could be my imagination, but it seems like it’s taking some effort. I want to skip this part, the part where we have to determine what it is and how it happened, the process. The part where she thinks I’m maybe a little bit crazy. Hallucinating, possibly. Working out past trauma, etc. I’m only interested in prevention, now.

“How do you know it was him?”

I give her a look. “I didn’t tell you we slept together.”

“Oh.” She leans forward in her brown leather chair. Unlike the plant, it’s new. “That seems an important part. Why do you think you left it out?”

“Because I’m engaged,” I tell her. “Obviously.”

She leans forward. “Not to me.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just didn’t. But I know it’s him, and he’s now dating my best friend.”

Dr. Christine looks at her notes. “Bella.”

I nod, although I don’t remember talking about her. I must have.

“She’s very important to you.”

“Yes.”

“And you feel guilty now.”

“Well, technically, I haven’t done anything wrong.”

She squints at me. I put a fist to my forehead and hold it there.

“You mentioned you’re engaged,” she says. “To the same man you were with when we last spoke?”

“Yes.”

“It has been over four years since I saw you. Do you have plans to get married?”

“Some couples decide not to.”

She nods. “Is that what you and David have decided?”

“Look,” I say. “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, or happen at all. That’s why I’m here.”

Dr. Christine sits back as if creating more space between us. A pathway to the door, maybe.

“Dannie,” she says. “I think something is going on that you don’t understand, and that is frightening to you, as someone whose actual job it is to discover and prove causality.”

“Causality,” I repeat.

“If I do this, I’ll get this result.” She holds out her hands like a weighted Grecian scale. “This experience does not fit in your life, you have not taken any steps to have it, and yet here it is.”

“Well, right,” I say. “That’s why I need it to not be.”

“And how do you propose you do that?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “That’s kind of why I’m here.”

Predictably, our time is up.

I decide I need to go in search of the apartment. I need something concrete, some form of evidence.

Sunday, David heads into the office and I tell him I’m going for a run. I used to run all the time in my twenties. Long ones. Down the West Side Highway and through the Financial District, between the tall buildings and across the cobblestones. I’ve run the loop in Central Park, around the reservoir, watching the leaves change from green to yellow to amber, the water reflecting the seasons. I’ve run two marathons and half a dozen halfs. Running does all the things for me it does for everyone else—clears my head, gives me time to think, makes my body feel good and loose. But it also has the added benefit of taking me places. When I first moved to the city I could only afford to live in Hell’s Kitchen, but I wanted to be everywhere. So I ran.

In the early days of our relationship I used to try and get David to come with me, but he’d want to stop after a few blocks and get bagels so I started leaving him at home. Running is better alone anyway. More space to think.

It’s 9 a.m. by the time I cross the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s Sunday, early, so there aren’t that many tourists out yet. Just bikers and other joggers. I keep my head high, shoulders back, focusing on my core pulling forward. My breathing is ragged. It has been too long since I’ve been on a long run, and I feel my lungs rebelling against the exertion.

I never saw the outside of the building. But from the view I’d have to place it somewhere close to the water, maybe near Plymouth. I get over the bridge and slow to a walk as I make my way down Washington Street toward the river. The sun has started to burn off the haze of the morning, and the water reflects in sparkles. I take off my sweatshirt and tie it around my waist.

Dumbo, short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, used to be a ferry landing and still has an industrial feel. Large warehouse buildings mix with overpriced grocer markets and all-glass apartment buildings. As my breathing slows, I realize I should have done a search before I came down. Apartment views, open listings. I could have make a spreadsheet and gone through it—why didn’t I think of that?

I stop in front of Brooklyn Bridge Park, in front of a brick-and-glass building that takes up the entire block. Not it.

I pull out my phone. Did I (do I?) buy this apartment? I make good money, more than most of my peers, but a two-million-­dollar one-bedroom loft seems out of my price range. At least in the next six months. And it doesn’t make any logistical sense. We have our dream place in Gramercy, big enough to put a kid in, someday. Why would I want to be here?

My stomach starts to rumble, and I walk west to see if I can find somewhere to grab an apple or a bagel, and think. I turn up Bridge Street and after a few blocks I find a deli with a black awning—Bridge Coffee Shop. It’s a tiny place, with a counter deli and a board menu. There’s a police officer there; that’s how you know it’s good. A woman with a wide smile stands behind the counter and converses in Spanish with a young mother with a sleeping baby. When they spot me, they wave goodbye to each other and the woman wheels her baby out. I hold the door open for her.

I order a bagel with whitefish salad, my usual. The woman behind the counter nods in solidarity with my order.

A man comes in and pays for a coffee. Two teenagers get bagels with cream cheese. Everyone here is a regular. Everyone says hello.

My sandwich comes up for pickup. I take the white paper bag, thank the woman, and make my way back down toward the water. Brooklyn Bridge Park is less a park and more a stretch of grass. The benches are full, and I pop down on a rock, right by the water’s edge. I open up my sandwich and take a bite. It’s good, really good. Surprisingly close to Sarge’s.

I look out over the water—I’ve always loved the water. I’ve had little of it over the course of my life, but when I was younger, we used to spend July Fourth week at the Jersey Shore in Margate, a beach town that is practically an extended suburb of Philadelphia if you go by population. My parents would rent a condo, and for seven blissful days we’d eat shave ice and run the crowded shores with hundreds of other kids, our parents happily situated in their beach chairs, watching from the sand. There was the night in Ocean City, on the rides, spinning on the Sizzler or riding the bumper cars. The dinner at Mack & Manco Pizza and cheese hoagies from Sack O’ Subs, dripping in oil and red wine vinegar, opened in paper at the beach.

Michael, my brother, gave me my first cigarette there, smoked under the boardwalk, nothing but the taste of freedom between us and our fingertips.

We stopped going after we lost him. I’m not sure why, except that everything that felt familial, that seemed to tie us together, was intolerable. Like our joy or unity was a betrayal of him, his life.

“Dannie?”

I close my eyes and open them again. When I look up, I see him standing above me in a bike helmet, half on his seat. Aaron. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Chapter Nine

“Hi. Wow.” I scramble to my feet, shoving my sandwich back into the bag. “What are you doing down here?”

He’s wearing a blue T-shirt and khaki pants, a brown leather messenger bag slung over his chest.

“It’s my weekend bike route.” He gestures to his bag, shakes his head. “No, Bella actually sent me on an errand this morning.”

“Oh yeah?”

Aaron unclips his helmet. The line of his hair is wet and matted down with sweat. “You seem to be feeling better.”

I put my hands on my hips. “I am.”

He smiles. “Good. You want to come?”

“Where?”

He scoots himself closer. “I’m looking at an apartment.”

Of course he is. I didn’t need a Google search. I just needed Aaron to show up, right now, and lead me there.

“Let me guess,” I say. “Plymouth Street?”

“Close,” he says. “Bridge.”

This is insane. This is not happening. “Yes,” I say. “I’ll come.”

“Great.”

He loops his helmet over his handlebars and we start walking.

“You’re a runner?” he asks me.

“I used to be,” I say. I can feel the sting in my left knee and hip as we walk, a product of not enough stretching, and no squats before taking off.

“I know. I don’t get on my bike as much as I’d like anymore, either.”

“Why isn’t Bella here?” I ask.

“She had to go into the gallery,” he says. “She asked me to check it out. You’ll get it when you see it, I think. Hang on.” We’re at a crosswalk and he holds his hand back as two bikers speed by. “Try not to die on my watch, huh?”

I blink back at him in the sunlight. I should have worn sunglasses.

“Okay, now we can go.”

We cross the street and then we’re making our way up Plymouth until we get right to where it meets Bridge, running perpendicular. Just where I came from. And then I see it. I missed it on my walk just now, blinded by my search for a sandwich. It’s the redbrick event space with the barn door. I recognize it now. But not just from that night. I was at a wedding here three years ago. David’s friends Brianne and Andrea from Wharton Business School. It’s the old Galapagos Art Space, and it’s what I saw out the window that night, four and a half years ago. And behind me, across the street, at 37 Bridge, is the building Aaron is about to lead me into.

“Watch your step,” he says, as we cross the street and make our way to the door. Sure enough, I’m right. It’s a brick-and-concrete building, less industrial than some surrounding it.

There’s no lobby, just a buzzer and a padlock, and Aaron takes a ring of keys from his messenger bag and begins trying them. The first two don’t work, and then on the third the lock swings open, the chain coming undone in his hands. The steel door swings open to reveal the side of a freight elevator. Aaron uses a second key to call it down for us—this time on the first try.

“They’re expecting you?” I ask.

Aaron nods. “A buddy of mine is a broker and gave me the keys. Said we could check it out today.”

We. Bella.

The elevator lumbers down. Aaron holds the door open and I step inside, then he wheels his bike in after us. He hits floor four and we’re making our way upward, the mechanics of the freight heaving and sputtering as we go.

“This building doesn’t seem up to code,” I say, crossing my arms. Aaron smiles.

“I like that you and Bella are best friends. It’s fun.”

“What?” I cough twice into my closed first. “What do you mean?”

“You’re so different.”

But I don’t have time to respond because the doors are opening, delivering us straight into the apartment from four and a half years ago. I know immediately, without having to take a step inside, that it’s the one. Of course it is. Where else did I think this morning would deposit me?

But the apartment isn’t at all what it was—or will be. It’s a construction site. Old wood beams sit piled in a corner. Plumbing and wires hang unfinished from outlets. There’s a wall where I do not remember one being. No appliances. No running water. The space is raw—open, honest—not a stitch of makeup on.

“Job for an architect,” I say. “I get it now.”

But Aaron hasn’t heard me. He’s busy leaning his bike up against a wall—where I remember the kitchen being—and stepping back to survey the place. I watch him cross the apartment, walk over to the windows. He turns around, taking in the long view.

“Bella wants to live here?” I ask. Her apartment is perfect, an actual dream. She bought it before it even came to market, fully renovated. She has three bedrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a galley kitchen. I can’t understand her wanting to move. She decorated that place for two full years. She still claims to not be done.

But Bella has always been one for a project. She loves potential, possibility, an unknown terrain such as this one. The only trouble is she rarely, if ever, sees anything through. I’ve seen her spend obscene amounts of money on projects and renovations that never ultimately come together. There was the Paris apartment, the LA loft, the jewelry line, the Thai silk scarf company, the shared artists space in Greenpoint. The list is long.

“She does,” Aaron says. “Or at least see if she can.” He’s speaking quietly. His attention isn’t on his words but instead on his surroundings. I can see him sketching, drawing, molding this place to life in his head.

They’ve only been together two months. Eight weeks. Granted that’s two weeks longer than Bella’s longest relationship, but still—David didn’t even know my middle name at the end of two months. The fact that Aaron is here—looking at a place for Bella to live? That he’s tapping the walls and stomping the ­floorboards—it gives me pause. Whatever level they’re at, this quickly, isn’t good.

“Seems like a big project,” I say.

“Not too big,” he says. “There are good bones here. “And Bella tells me she likes a project.”

“I know that,” I say.

At this, he looks at me. He turns his entire attention toward me—my lone figure, standing in this swampy, sweaty space, clad in black running pants and an old camp T--shirt, while the potential of the future hangs around us like storm clouds.

“I know you do,” he says. It’s softer than I imagined whatever he’d say would be. “I’m sorry if I misspoke.” He takes a step closer to me. I inhale. “The truth is I saw you go into the deli. I circled around and followed you back to the water.” He rubs a hand over his forehead. “I wasn’t sure if I should say hi, but I really—I really do want you to like me. I feel like we got off on the wrong foot and I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to change that.”

I back away. “No,” I say. “It’s not—”

“No, no, it’s okay.” He gives me another lopsided smile, but this one looks hesitant, almost embarrassed. “Look, I don’t need to be loved by everyone. But it would be nice if my girlfriend’s best friend could stand to be in the same room as me, you know?”

This room. This apartment. This unfulfilled space.

I nod. “Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

He brightens at this. “We can take things slow. No meals for a while. Maybe just start with some sparking water? Work our way up to a coffee?”

I try for a smile. On anyone else, that would have been funny. “Sounds good,” I say. It feels physically impossible to say something interesting.

“Great.” He holds my gaze for a beat. “Bella’s gonna flip when I tell her I ran into you. What are the odds?”

“In a city of nine million? Less than zero.”

He goes over to where wires hang unaccompanied off walls. “What do you think of putting the—”

“Kitchen?” I offer.

He smiles. “Exactly. And you could do the bedroom back there.” He points toward the windows. “I bet we could get a sick walk-in closet.”

We walk through the apartment for another five minutes. Aaron takes some photos as he goes. When we head back down the elevator, my cell phone is ringing. It’s Bella.

“Aaron texted me. How crazy is that? What were you even doing down there? You never run in Brooklyn. What did you think of the place?” She stops, and I can hear her breathing—shallow and expectant through the phone.

“It’s nice, I guess,” I say. “But your place is perfect. Why would you want to move?”

“You hate it?”

I think about lying to her. About telling her I don’t like it. That the windows have the wrong view, that it smells like trash, that it’s too far. I’ve never lied to Bella, and I do not want to, but she also can’t buy this place. She can’t move here. It’s for her protection as well as my own.

“It just seems like a lot of work,” I tell her. “And kind of far.”

She exhales. I can feel her annoyance. “From what?” she says. “No one lives in Manhattan anymore. It’s so stuffy, I can’t believe I do. You need to be a little more open-minded.”

“Well,” I say. “I don’t really have to be anything. I’m not going to be the one living there.”

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