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Authors: Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel (7 page)

BOOK: In Five Years: A Novel
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Chapter Ten

“David, we need to get married.”

It’s the following Friday, and David and I are on the couch trying to decide what to order for dinner. It’s past 10 p.m. We had a reservation for two hours ago, but one of us had to work later and then the other decided to do the same. We got home ten minutes ago and collapsed jointly onto the sofa.

“Now?” David asks. He takes his glasses off and looks around. He never uses the bottom of his T-shirt because he thinks it smudges the lenses more. He makes a move to get up and go in search of a cleaner when I grab his hand.

“No. I’m serious.”

“Me, too.”

David sits back down. “Dannie, I’ve asked you before to set a date. We’ve talked about it. You never think it’s the right time.”

“That’s not fair,” I say. “We’ve both felt that way.”

David sighs. “Do you really want to talk about this?”

I nod.

“Life has been busy, yes. But it’s not true to say postponing things has come from us equally. I’ve been okay with waiting, because it’s what you want.”

David has been patient. We’ve never spoken about it, not in so many words, but I know he’s wondered,
Why hasn’t it happened?
Why do we never talk about it, not in specifics? Life got busy, and it was easy for me to pretend he didn’t think about it a lot, and maybe he didn’t. David has always been fine with my being in the driver’s seat when it comes to our relationship. He knows it’s where I feel comfortable, and he’s happy to let me have it. It’s one of the reasons we work so well.

“You’re right,” I say. I take both of his hands in mine now. The glasses dangle awkwardly from his pointer finger—an unfortunate third wheel. “But I’m saying it’s time now. Let’s do it.”

David squints at me. He understands now that I’m serious. “You’ve been acting really weird lately,” he says.

“I’m proposing here.”

“We’re already engaged.”

“David,” I say. “Come on.”

At this, he stops. “Proposing?” he says. “I took you to the Rainbow Room. This is pretty lame.”

“You’re right.”

Still holding his hands, I slide down off the couch until I’m on one knee. His eyes widen in amusement.

“David Rosen. From the first minute I saw you—at Ten Bells in that blue blazer with your headphones in—I knew you were the one.”

I have a flash of him: young professional, hair cut too short, smiling awkwardly at me.

“I wasn’t wearing headphones.”

“Yes you were. You told me it was too loud in there.”

“It is too loud in there,” David says.

“I know,” I say, shaking his hands. His glasses fall. I pick them up and put them on the sofa next to him. “It
is
too loud in there. I love that we both know that, and that we agree that movies should be twenty minutes shorter. I love that we both hate slow-walkers and that you think watching reruns is a waste of time value. I love that you use the term
time value
!”

“To be fair, that’s—”

“David,” I say. I drop his hands and place both my palms on either side of his face. “Marry me. Let’s do it. For real this time. I love you.”

He looks at me. His naked green eyes look into mine. I feel my breath suspend. One, two—

“Okay,” he says.

“Okay?”

“Okay.” He laughs, and reaches for me. My lips meet his, and then we’re in a tangle of limbs making our way to the floor. David sits up and bangs into the coffee table. “Shit, ow.” It’s wood with a glass top and tends to come off its hinges unless you move the whole thing in one piece.

We stop what we’re doing to attend to the table.

“Watch the corners,” I say. We pick it up and set it back down, nudging the top into formation on the base. Once it’s done, we stare at each other on either end of the furniture, breathing hard.

“Dannie,” he says. “Why now?”

I don’t tell him what I can’t, of course. What Dr. Christine accused me of withholding. That the reason I’ve been avoiding our forever is the same reason it needs to happen now—without delay. That in forging one path, I am, in fact, ensuring another never comes to fruition.

Instead, I say this:

“It’s time, David. We fit together, I love you. What more do you need? I’m ready, and I’m sorry it took me so long.”

And that’s true, too. As true as anything is.

“Just that,” he says. His face looks happier than I’ve seen it in years.

He takes my hand and, despite the three feet now between the couch and the coffee table, he leads me deliberately, slowly, into the bedroom. He nudges me back gently until I’m just perched on the bed.

“I love you, too,” he says. “In case it wasn’t obvious.”

“It is,” I say. “I know.”

He undresses me with an intention that hasn’t been there in a long time. Usually when we have sex, we don’t do a lot of mood-setting. We’re not particularly imaginative, and we’re always pressed for time. The sex David and I have is good—great, even. It always has been. We work well together. We communicated early and often and we know what works. David is thoughtful and generous and, although I’m not sure I’d call us ambitious, there is a certain competitive edge to our lovemaking that never lets it feel stale or boring.

But tonight is different.

With his right hand, he reaches forward and begins to unbutton my shirt. His knuckles are cool, and I shiver against him. My shirt is an old, white button-down J.Crew. Boring. Predictable. He’ll be met with a nude bra underneath. Same old. But what’s happening here tonight feels anything but.

He keeps unbuttoning. He takes his time, threading the silk knobs through their eye slits until the whole thing comes undone at the waist. I shimmy my shoulders until it’s off and falls to the floor.

David puts one hand on my stomach, and with the other he threads a thumb into the seam of my skirt. He holds me in place as he unzips it. This is less of a slow burn. It comes off in one swoop, falling into a puddle at my feet. I stand up and step out of it. My bra and underwear don’t match. They’re both Natori, although the bra is nude cotton and the underwear is black silk. I dispense with both and then push him down onto the bed. I lean forward over him, my breast grazing the side of his face. He reaches out and bites it.

“Ow!” I say.

“Ow?” He puts both hands on my back and runs them down slowly. “That hurt?”

“Yes. Since when are you a biter?”

“Since never,” he says. “Sorry.”

He reaches out and kisses me. It’s a slow and deep kiss, meant to recenter us. It works.

David is working on his shirt—his hands on the buttons. I put mine over his and stop him.

“What?” he asks. He’s out of breath, his chest straining.

I don’t say anything. When he tries to stand, I put my hands on his shoulders and nudge him back down.

“Dannie?” He whispers.

I answer by guiding his hand to my stomach and then down, down until I feel that concave spot that makes me inhale. I hold his hand there. He looks at me—first confusion, then recognition dawning as I press his hand back and then forward, back and then forward. I take my hand away from his and grab on to his shoulders. He’s breathing along with me—and I close my eyes against the rhythm, his hand, the incoming collapse that is mine, and mine alone.

Afterward, we lie in bed together. We’re both on our phones, looking up venues.

“Should we tell people?” David asks.

I pause, but what I say is: “Of course. We’re getting married.”

He looks at me. “Right. When do you want to do it?”

“Soon,” I say. “We’ve waited so long already. Next month?”

David laughs. It’s a sincere laugh, guttural—the kind I love from him. “You’re funny,” he says.

I put down my phone and roll to him. “What?”

“Oh, you’re serious? Dannie, you’re not serious.”

“Of course I am.”

He shakes his head. “Not even
you
could plan and execute a wedding in a month.”

“Who says we have to have a wedding?”

He raises his eyebrows at me, then squints them together. “Your mother, mine. Come on, Dannie. This is ridiculous. We’ve waited four and a half years, we can’t just elope now. Are you kidding? Because I really can’t tell.”

“I just want to get it done.”

“How romantic,” he deadpans.

“You know what I mean.”

David sets his phone down. He looks to me. “I don’t, actually. You love planning. That’s like . . . your whole thing. You once planned a Thanksgiving down to pee breaks.”

“Yeah, well . . .”

“Dannie, I want to get married, too. But let’s do it the right way. Let’s do it
our
way. Okay?”

He looks at me, waiting for an answer. But I can’t give him one, not the one he wants. I don’t have time for our way. I don’t have time to plan. We have five months. Five months until I’m living in an apartment my best friend wants to buy, with the boyfriend she wants to buy it with. I need to stop this. I need to do whatever I can to make sure it never comes true.

“I’ll be a planning machine,” I say. “It’s all I’m going to focus on. How does December sound? We can have a holiday wedding to match our holiday proposal. It’ll be festive.”

“We’re Jews,” David says. He’s back on his phone.

“Maybe it will snow,” I say, ignoring him. “David? December? I don’t want to wait.”

This makes him stop. He shakes his head, leans over, and kisses my shoulder blade. I know I’ve won. “December?”

I nod.

“Okay,” he says. “December it is.”

December.

Chapter Eleven

I have a giant case dropped in my lap on Thursday. One of our biggest clients—let’s just say they revolutionized the health-food store—wants to announce an acquisition of a delivery service company on Monday, before the markets open. David and I were supposed to go home to Philadelphia and tell my parents the December plan in person, but it’s never going to happen this weekend.

I call him at eight, while crouched over piles of documents in the conference room. There are twelve other associates and four partners barking orders and containers of empty Chinese food surrounding me. It’s a war zone. I love it.

“I’m not getting out of here this weekend,” I tell him. “Even to come home to sleep. Forget Philly.”

I hear the TV on behind him. “What happened?”

“Can’t say, but it’s a big one.”

“No shit,” he says. “Whol—”

I clear my throat. “I’m going to be sleeping here for the next three days. Can we do next weekend?”

“I have Pat’s bachelor party.”

“Right. Arizona.” They’re going to drink beer and practice target shooting—neither of which David has any interest in. I’m not even sure why he’s going. He barely sees Pat anymore.

“It’s fine,” he says. “We’ll just call and fill them in. They’ll be thrilled either way. I think your mom was starting to give up on me.”

My parents love David. Of course they do. He’s a lot like my brother, or what I imagine he’d have turned out to be. Smart, calm, even-tempered. Michael never got in trouble. He was the one making chore charts when we were kids, and he did model UN before he even learned to drive. He and David would be friends, I know they would. And it still stings me that he’s not here. That he won’t ever be here. That he didn’t see me graduate or accept my first job, hasn’t been to our apartment, and won’t get to watch me get married.

My parents bugged David and me incessantly during the first two years of our engagement to set a date, but less so now. I know how much they want this for me, and themselves. David’s wrong—at this point, they’d probably be fine with City Hall.

“Okay. My dad might be in the city next week.”

“Thursday,” David says. “I’m already taking him to lunch.”

“You’re the best.”

He makes a noncommittal noise through the phone. Just then, Aldridge walks into the room. I hang up on David without saying goodbye. He’ll understand. He used to do the same thing to me all the time at Tishman.

“How’s it looking?” Aldridge asks.

Normally a managing partner would not ask a senior associate how an acquisition of this magnitude was “looking.” He’d go directly to a senior partner in the room. But since Aldridge hired me, we’ve developed a real rapport. From time to time, he calls me into his office to talk about cases, or offer me guidance. I know the other associates notice, and I know they don’t like it, and it feels great. There are a few ways to get ahead at a corporate law firm, and being the managing partner’s favorite is definitely one of them.

Most corporate lawyers are sharks. But I’ve never heard Aldridge so much as raise his voice. And he somehow manages to have a personal life. He’s been married to his husband, Josh, for twelve years. They have a daughter, Sonja, who is eight. His office is peppered with photos of her, them. Vacations, school pictures, Christmas cards. A real life outside those four walls.

“We’re still in due diligence but should have some documents up for signature on Sunday,” I say.

“Saturday,” Aldridge hits back. He looks at me, an eyebrow raised.

“That’s what I meant.”

“Did everyone order food?” Aldridge announces to the room. In addition to the Chinese food cartons on the conference table, there are burger wrappers from The Palm and chopped salad containers from Quality Italian, but in the middle of a big deal like this, food is a
constant
necessity.

Immediately, all fifteen lawyers look up, eyes blinking. Sherry, the senior partner managing the case, answers for the room. “We’re fine, Miles,” she says.

“Mitch!” Aldridge calls for his assistant who is never more than ten feet away. “Let’s order some Levain. Get these fine people a little caffeine and sugar.”

“We’ve got it covered, really—” Sherry starts.

“These people look hungry,” he says.

He strolls out of the conference room. I catch Sherry’s eyes narrowing before she dives back into the document that’s in front of her. Sometimes kindness under pressure can feel like a slight, and I don’t blame Sherry for reacting that way. She doesn’t have time to console us with cookies—that’s a privilege for the very high up.

The thing many people don’t realize about corporate lawyers is that they are nothing like what you see on TV shows. Sherry, Aldridge, and I will never step foot in a courtroom. We’ll never argue a case. We do deals; we’re not litigators. We prepare documents and review every piece of paperwork for a merger or an acquisition. Or to take a company public. On
Suits
, Harvey does both paperwork and crushes it in court. In reality, the lawyers at our firm who argue cases don’t have a clue what we do in these conference rooms. Most of them haven’t prepared a document in a decade.

People think our form of corporate law is the less ambitious of the two, and while in many ways it’s less glamorous—no closing arguments, no media interviews—nothing compares to the power of the paper. At the end of the day, law comes down to what is written, and we do the writing.

I love the order of deal making, the clarity of language—how there is little room for interpretation and none for error. I love the black-and-white terms. I love that in the final stages of closing a deal—particularly those of the magnitude Wachtell takes on—seemingly insurmountable obstacles arise. Apocalyptic scenarios, disagreements, and details that threaten to topple it all. It seems impossible we’ll ever get both parties on the same page, but somehow we do. Somehow, contracts get agreed upon and signed. Somehow, deals get done. And when it finally happens, it’s exhilarating. Better than any day in court. It’s written. Binding. Anyone can bend a judge’s or jury’s will with bravado, but to do it on paper—in black and white—that takes a particular kind of artistry. It’s truth in poetry.

I come home once on Saturday just to shower and change, and on Sunday I drag myself home well past midnight. When I get there David is asleep, but there’s a note on the counter and takeout pasta in the fridge: cacio e pepe from L’Artusi, my favorite. David is always really thoughtful like this—having my favorite takeout in the fridge, leaving the chocolate I like on the counter. He spent the weekend at the office as well, but since he moved to the fund he has more autonomy over his time than I do. I’m still at the mercy of the partners, the clients, and the whims of the market. For David, it’s mostly just the market, and since much of the money his company handles is longer-term investment, it takes a lot of the harried day-to-day pressure off. As David likes to say: “No one ever runs into my office.”

I have two missed calls and three texts from Bella, whom I’ve ignored all weekend, and, in fact, all of last week. She doesn’t know David and I got re-engaged on the living room floor, and that we are officially planning a wedding for December—or we will be anyway when we have a second free.

I text her back:
Just getting in from an all-weekender
.
Call you tomorrow
.

Despite the fact that I haven’t slept in close to seventy-two hours, I don’t feel tired. We got the signatures. Tomorrow—or today, actually—our clients will announce that they have acquired a billion-dollar company. They’re expanding their global reach and will revolutionize the way people shop for groceries.

I feel like I always do after we close a big case: high. I haven’t done cocaine, except for one ill-advised night in college, but it’s the same sensation. My heart races, my pupils dilate. I feel like I could run a marathon. We won.

There’s a bottle of opened Chianti on the counter, and I pour myself a glass. Our apartment has a big kitchen window that looks out over Gramercy Park. I sit down at the kitchen table and gaze out the window. It’s dark out, but the city lights illuminate the trees and sidewalk. When I first moved to New York, I used to walk by the park and think that someday I’d live near it. Now, David and I have a key. We can go inside the park anytime we want. But we don’t, of course. We’re busy. We went the day we got the key, with a bottle of champagne, stayed long enough to open it and make a toast, but haven’t been back since. It’s pretty to look at through the window, though. And the location is convenient. Very central. I promise myself that David and I will take some iced coffees in there and do some wedding planning soon.

It’s a beautiful apartment. It has two bedrooms and high ceilings, a full kitchen and dining area, a TV and couch alcove. We decorated it in all grays and whites. It’s calming, serene. It looks like the kind of apartment that gets photographed. It’s everything I ever wanted.

I look down at my hand, still wearing that engagement ring. And now, soon, a band. I finish my wine, brush my teeth, wash my face, and crawl into bed. I take the ring off and set it in the little bowl on my nightstand. It sparkles back at me, a promise. I vow that first thing tomorrow, I’ll call a wedding planner.

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