Authors: Kate le Vann
Tags: #Adult, #Arranged marriage, #California, #Contemporary, #Custody of children, #Fiction, #General, #Loss, #Mayors, #Romance, #Social workers
LIVIA’S MUM blames me. Jeff introduced us and you could see her thinking,
Oh, right, you’re the one. It’s you who took her into the middle of New York and let her get sick without even noticing. Lovely to meet you
. She’s spent every second with Livia. Livia was crying and asking for her mum before she arrived and I was so glad she was here because I just wanted my baby to be happy and feel better and get better. But as soon as she did, I realized that I had to stand a lot farther back. I ended up stuck in a corridor for hours, staring at my hands. I was suddenly aware of my T-shirt being worn and sweaty. A thousand people walked up and down and most of them looked at me as if they were wondering why I was there.
THE NEXT DAY, the nurse told me Livia was sitting up and feeling better, and Jeff came out and asked me if I wanted to see her. It seemed like a bit of a nuts question as I’d been there since six a.m. I had the shoes with me, the little red Dorothy shoes I bought her just before she collapsed, and I was going to tell her that when she was feeling a bit better she could put them on and tap her heels together to get home. But then I saw her and she didn’t look better. She was wired up to an IV unit, with something dripping into the back of her hand. Jeff and Livia’s mum left us alone.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Livia said. “I usually like to wait till I really get to know a guy before I start nearly dying in front of him.”
I tried to laugh. “I love you,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
We sat in silence for a few seconds and I wanted to cry.
“So when are you getting out?” I said. I was trying to sound upbeat.
“I don’t know,” Livia said, and started doing a really scary cough. “Sorry, the antibiotics are supposed to be sorting that out.” She waved her hand, and the wire to the IV unit shook. “Ow,” she said.
“Does it hurt?”
“No, it’s just the thingy in my hand. It’s a bit tender.”
“I should have noticed you were ill. I should never have taken you so far.”
“Adam, this isn’t your fault.”
“It is my fault.”
Livia’s eyes went all teary and I changed the subject, I don’t remember what to. I sort of remember we talked about Princeton and Manchester and Jeff and songs and a kids’ TV show we both used to watch and it
like us, but underneath the talk we were desperate to hold each other and couldn’t.
“What’s in the bag?” Livia said.
“Oh. Nothing,” I said. I was suddenly ashamed of what I’d bought, because it reminded me of leaving her alone in New York. Livia nodded, and said okay. So I took them out, because I didn’t have anything nice to give her. I mumbled words that didn’t really mean anything while I opened the box. Livia started crying properly, which wasn’t the reaction I’d planned on getting. I was terrified her mum would come back in and tell me off for upsetting her and chase me out, throwing the shoes at my head one by one. Livia swung her feet out of the bed. She was wearing little blue checked pajamas, and she’d rolled the legs up. Her legs, you know, so utterly sexy. It was entirely inappropriate but I was just thinking,
Woah, you’ve got seriously great legs, Livia,
even though I’d obviously seen them before. She slipped the shoes on, and then wiped her eyes with her pajama sleeve.
“They’re lovely,” she said. Her voice cracked, then she started crying again, and coughing, again, and I helped her to lie back down. Her skin was cold and goose-bumpy, and she felt so light.
“When you get out of here, I’ll take you on an unreasonably long walk in them,” I said, and kissed her face through her tears.
“You’re always telling me to wear sensible shoes.”
“Oh, screw that,” I said. “I like it when you look beautiful.”
“You can’t like me much now, then,” Livia whispered.
“You’re beautiful and sexy now, and I love you now—I love you, Livia.” I squeezed her hands, worrying that I was hurting the one with the drip in it. “You believe that, don’t you?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“I wish I could take you out of this place.” My voice broke. I dropped my head on the sheet, near her lap.
“Don’t leave yet,” Livia said. She stroked my hair. I wanted to grab her to me.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
This is going to sound odd…but a small part of me was happy, sitting with her there. I was thinking,
Now we’ve done everything together—like the hard thing, as well as the fun things. We’re an item, we’re solid. We’re together.
Livia died in her sleep that night.
When I came in the morning after, at seven, I was told that she’d developed pneumonia and the antibiotics hadn’t controlled it. I asked what that meant. It took me ages to understand what they were telling me, that she was dead. I kept saying, “So what happens now?” until the nurse said, “I’m afraid she died, sir,” and I tried to swallow and my throat seemed to block up with dry hairs and I started choking. I was
with Jeff for not calling me and getting me in earlier, but I knew that was stupid and selfish of me. Jeff was going through what he was going through. Livia would have wanted her family around her. But I loved her, too.
I thought they didn’t care and couldn’t see that, and had stopped thinking about me altogether, and I was angry with them and started practicing things I’d never say to them about how much I loved her. Livia’s mum appeared at the edge of the ward, came up to me, and I couldn’t read her expression at all, I thought she might shake me, or hit me, or shout at me, and at that moment I realized I really wanted that—to be blamed and told off, to focus all the guilt and anger I felt at myself.
But Livia’s mum hugged me. Really hard, for a lady—I almost had trouble breathing. I said, “I’m so sorry. I would have done anything not to hurt her.” I felt really young, as if she was my mum and I needed her to comfort me, and I closed my eyes and held on as if my life depended on it.
LET ME tell you something. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe in soul mates or that there’s one person who’s just right for you and all that bullshit. I don’t believe in any of it. If it’s all true, and I fell in love with Livia the first time I saw her smudged-makeup-y face back in Manchester, and the world stopped turning when I looked in her eyes, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her even though I didn’t see her again for a year, and then I saw her again, and it was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud going,
This Is The One, THIS IS IT
— if that is all true, then
Well, of course I do believe in all of it, because it happened to me. It’s stupidly self-obsessed to try and explain the important moments of your life as something that happened to make you aware of how precious life is, or that someone came into your world to show you how to feel, and I know for certain that Livia Stowe’s whole life was not about making sure I had one perfect summer. Like everyone who has been in love, we just got lucky, but our luck ran out.
WHEN they find out you didn’t know the love of your life for a very long time, people recalculate their sympathy. But that’s fine, I don’t want to talk about Livia to other people.
I’ve been back in England a week. I keep thinking of everything in terms of how Livia would see it and what Livia would say about it. Including Livia’s funeral. I had such a clear sense of her that day, almost as if she was sitting next to me whispering in my ear, “I hate it when my mum cries. Why didn’t you tell them to play the Beatles song? You know I love it. Don’t cry, you’ll start me off.”
I’m still working on code with Dougie, only we do it over webcams now and he doesn’t pick up on my mistakes as much because he’s being sensitive. I’ve got my own Java project to do. I’ve got tons of things to be getting on with. Loads of people who want to take me out of myself, and loads of excuses to turn them down. I’ve just got to keep going and hope that one day it starts to feel not quite as bad as it does now.
I talk to Livia at night when I’m lying in bed, and I think I almost believe she can hear me. I’m careful about what I say, anyway, and I try not to cry when I remind her that she left me at the worst possible time, because I knew her enough to know I was completely in love with her, but she didn’t leave me with enough memories. I’m scared of using up the few I have, and turning them into memories of memories, like songs you loved that you’ve played too many times, and you feel just a bit less excited by each time. And I hear my little pretend Livia, close to my ear, saying, “It really happened, Adam. I was here, and I loved you, too.” Then I turn over hard, because I’m angry with the world, and my sheets feel lumpy and untidy and I do my best to fall asleep.
KATE LE VANN
was born in Yorkshire, England, but has lived many places, including Princeton, New Jersey. She’s written for
The Big Issue
She visits New York City as often as she can but has been there twice chasing after boys. The first boy was not that into her. The second showed up to the airport an hour late because he was buying plastic spoons at Ikea and lost track of time. She married that one.
She lives in England with her husband and two daughters.