As I told this now to Luc, he settled back into the cushions of the sofa, with his arms still round me firmly and protectively. “They stole your code and passed it off as theirs.”
My nod was slight. “We weren’t supposed to work in teams. They lied.”
They’d changed the code in tiny ways to distance it from mine, but code could be as individual as handwriting to some discerning eyes. And then of course I’d told the truth, because I could do nothing else.
I had been very fortunate. I’d been believed. My marks had been reduced as a small penalty for not taking enough care to be sure of the assignment’s true requirements, but I had been cleared of cheating. Unlike Erica and Gary, who had been kicked off the course.
“Stupid bitch,” was what Gary had called me before he’d left. I hadn’t seen him again after that. Erica had been more vocal, coming round to tell me in great detail what she thought of me. She’d weaponized the private things I’d told her, flinging all my insecurities back at me with a force that made them sting. “You know why all your boyfriends leave? Why no one ever stays with you? Because you’re weird,” she’d told me. “You’re not normal. You’re not capable of having real relationships because you’ll always end up letting people down, the way you’ve let down me and Gary.”
Saying those words over now to Luc still stung a little, even now. “But she was right,” I said.
“No, she wasn’t. They’re the ones who took advantage of your trust. They let you down.”
“There’s no ‘but.’ She lied to you about the course assignment, right?”
“And have I ever lied to you?”
“You said it was tradition for a man to take a woman out to lunch at New Year’s.”
I could feel the movement of his mouth against my hair. Perhaps a smile. “Apart from that.”
I thought back through the time that I had known him and admitted, “No.”
“Then which of us does it make sense to believe?” he asked. “Me, or someone who was angry and out for revenge and had already lied to you?”
It wasn’t the most perfect logical argument. I couldn’t know if a person had lied to me until that lie was exposed, but I knew in my heart Luc had always been truthful. And so I said, “You.”
“Then believe what I’m telling you. This, what we’re having, is a real relationship. You’re more than capable. You’re doing fine. Every couple,” he told me, “has moments that challenge them, but when you’re with the right person, a person who loves you, a person you love, you work through them together. Those others who left you, who hurt you, they weren’t the right men for you, that’s all. And just because they left, that doesn’t mean I will.” He gathered me closer, as though I were something of value. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I leaned against his chest and shut my eyes and sorted through what he’d just told me, trying to decide if he’d been speaking hypothetically or if he had just said he loved me.
I thought of what Denise had told me when she had explained about their marriage and divorce: “He deserves to be properly loved,” she had said. And I wanted to give him that, wanted to be the right person for him. Still with my eyes closed, I told Luc, “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Easily, simply, with no hesitation.
He gently smoothed the tangled hair back from my forehead and I lifted my own hand to hold his there, to press it firmly to my eyes because it felt so comforting, the steady rhythm of his heartbeat strong and soothing at my temple where my face was resting on his shirt.
Recalling something else Denise had said about Luc’s family, I asked, “Was that why your mother took your brother to America to go to school? Because he has Asperger’s?”
“Yes, it wasn’t so well understood in France. The opportunities were better in America for Fabien to get the education that was suited to his way of learning. And he met his wife there, so it’s good he went.”
“Yes. Three daughters. Why?”
I hadn’t expected that. Hadn’t allowed for it in my own life, having long since resigned myself to the idea of being alone like the single computer that Jacqui’s psychologist author had used to explain how my mind was wired—one little Mac in an office of PCs, unable to fully connect. Incompatible. But when I tried to explain using this same analogy now to Luc, he pointed out, “But Macs can do things a PC can’t do. And in my office, Macs and PCs share the same network.”
“You’re not ever going to let me win an argument, are you?”
“Do you want to win this one?”
“I don’t know.” I suddenly felt very drowsy. “I don’t know what I want.” Then I thought for a moment and added, regretful, “I wanted to meet your brother.”
I felt Luc’s shrug. “He’s in Paris for two more days. We can try again tomorrow.”
“But tomorrow’s Thursday,” I reminded him. “You’ll be at work.”
“I have a very understanding boss. I’ll work from home. We’ll try again, same time. I won’t be late,” he promised.
“I don’t know.”