“How did we meet?” Nathalie asked.
He’d put his hand on the table, and she was almost petting it. Gemma had never seen anything like it. It was as if she wanted to hold his hand, but she was too frantic to keep it still, so she kept running her hands over it.
“We met in elementary school,” Brian said. “But we didn’t start dating until high school.”
“We were high school sweethearts?” Nathalie asked.
He nodded. “We were, yeah.”
“You took me to the prom?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“I knew it.” She squealed and laughed. “What color was my dress? How did I look?”
“It was kind of a dark blue. You were beautiful.” He smiled at the memory. “You always were. You still are.”
“Did you propose to me?” Nathalie asked.
“I did,” he said. “It wasn’t very romantic. I was too nervous and I kept stumbling. You actually guessed before I had a chance to get the words out, but you instantly said yes.”
She twisted the gold wedding band that he still wore on his finger, and he let her. “Where’s my ring?”
“Um, the girls have it,” Brian said. “Gemma does, actually.”
“I keep it in a jewelry box on my dresser,” Gemma said, and Nathalie glanced over at her for a second before returning her attention back to Brian.
“Why don’t I wear it?” Nathalie asked.
“We wanted to keep it safe,” he explained.
“Do you have any pictures of our wedding?”
“I do.” He nodded. “Not with me, but I have many.”
“And after we got married, we had the girls?” Nathalie looked over at them again.
“Yes, we did. They’re both our daughters.” Brian motioned in their direction, but he wouldn’t look at them, probably afraid that they might see the pain in his eyes.
Nathalie was staring at Harper and Gemma like she’d never seen them before, scrutinizing them. “They’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, they are,” Brian agreed with a small smile.
“Harper looks like you.” Nathalie tilted her head. “She has your nose and your eyes, but hers are grayer. Yours are more blue.”
“I think she’s prettier, too,” Brian said.
Harper laughed nervously. “Thanks, Dad.”
“You visit me a lot,” Nathalie said to the girls. “I see you. I remember you.” She pointed to Gemma. “You swim, and … and”—she pointed at Harper—“you’re going to college soon?”
“Yep, that’s right,” Harper said.
“I used to swim. But I’m acting in a play now.” Gemma leaned forward on the table. “You used to be in plays. Do you remember that?”
“No.” Nathalie shook her head. “Should I?”
“No.” Gemma forced a smile at her. “It’s okay, Mom.”
Nathalie faced Brian again. She stopped petting his hand and just held it as she stared at him. “You don’t visit me. Do you?”
“No, I don’t.” His voice was thick. “I’m sorry.”
“Why not?” Nathalie asked, but there wasn’t a hint of accusation in her voice.
“You … you don’t remember me very much anymore.” Brian chose his words carefully. “It’s hard for me to see you and not be able to talk to you like my wife, like the mother of my children. I want to talk to you about our life together, and I can’t.” He swallowed hard. “You don’t remember it.”
“Why don’t I remember you?” Nathalie asked.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “You remembered me more, after the accident, when I used to see you a lot. So it’s my fault. I should’ve stayed with you longer.”
“I wish I remembered you,” she said quietly. “You seem very kind, and you have nice eyes.” She reached up, her fingers touching the crow’s-feet at the corner of his eye.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Were we in love?” Nathalie asked when she dropped her hand.
“Yes.” Brian let out a shaky breath. “We were very much in love.” He pursed his lips. “And I’m sorry I let you down.”
“How did you let me down?”
“I should’ve visited you more. I should’ve been here for you.”
“If I loved you the way you say I did, I’d want you to be happy,” Nathalie said. “And if seeing me makes you sad, then maybe it’s better that you didn’t.”
She’d been playing with his hand, but he turned it so he was holding her hand. Tears were standing in his eyes, and he tried to sniff them back.
“I miss you, Nat.”
“I wish I could say I missed you, too,” Nathalie admitted. “But I don’t. I don’t remember you.”
“I love you. I will always love you,” Brian said. “But I can’t do this anymore.”
As he stood up, he bent down and kissed Nathalie on the forehead. He lingered there for a moment, breathing her in, and then he turned and walked out of the room.
“Dad?” Harper got up and went after him.
“Did I do something wrong?” Nathalie asked and looked back at Gemma.
“No, Mom, you didn’t do anything wrong.” She got up and went around the table, sitting in her dad’s spot so she could be closer to Nathalie. “You did really good today.”