India proved to be more enjoyable than Maggie had anticipated. The highlight of her travels, of course, was the wedding ceremony in Bangalore. Coached by Arun’s mother, she played the roles of both father and mother of the bride. Jenn, with hennaed hands, looked at ease in her red sari; Arun, dressed in a tunic and turban, looked proud. For the reception afterwards, the young couple changed into the clothes in which they’d married in the Adler’s backyard. Maggie was touched by the gesture. She left for home shortly afterwards, satisfied with the newlyweds’ prospects amidst Arun’s extended family.
Maggie remained in her house in Pelham for another year, taking courses in accounting and completing the divorce proceeding that Paul did not contest. When she was ready, she found a job in the City and bought a condo in New Jersey, across from the Manhattan skyline. It was the smallest, cheapest two-bedroom she could find—she needed a second bedroom so Jenn could visit—and the view inspired confidence. At first she was lonely, but she made new friends with whom she explored the City’s enticements. She assumed a lover would appear somewhere in the course of daily life sometime in the near future. She was not wrong.
At first, she
thought about Jenn continually. She would calculate the difference in time zones and compare her own and Jenn’s respective activities. She wanted to be closer, to feel Jenn’s joys and fears, to
cherish and comfort. But not wishing to intrude, she resisted tapping out messages on her phone. She’d learned, in the wake of her divorce, to see Jenn as a woman different from herself, and
separate. Both she and her daughter, she now knew, would live out the consequences of their individual choices. She imagined they’d both come out okay.
When Paul stormed out of Pelham, he called his former lover, Irene, and asked to stay with her while he looked for an apartment near the hospital where they both worked. He said it might take some time to find a place, but she opened her arms. After six months, she asked him to leave, and he began to look for a place in earnest. And he began to drink in earnest. At the hours when he had been accustomed to having a bourbon, like before dinner or at his desk in the evening, now he had two. Or three. Not because apartment hunting aggravated him. No, it was because Robert Stanford had taken control of his lab—his grant, his team, his reputation—and the resentment he had long felt for his colleague had swelled into hate. Stamford had arranged for another researcher to replicate Paul’s key experiments, and the thought of the coming humiliation nauseated him. So he quit and left for California and a fresh start.
In Los Angeles,
Paul wangled a job as a rep for a pharmaceutical company. Many of the oncologists he called on had heard of his work, and he basked in their admiration. He felt better, backed off the booze, lost
the fifteen pounds he had gained. At one of the doctor’s offices he visited, he met a woman, much younger, divorced with two bratty kids. She admired his height and his pedigree; he liked her
vigor. They married soon after. They agreed incontrovertibly that there would be no more children. He told himself his new job and his new marriage were better than the old. He knew it was
Every so often when his stepsons misbehaved, he thought about Jenn and longed for the camaraderie they used to share. But he did not write, afraid she might still be angry about his behavior at her wedding. He felt guilty about not having gone to Bangalore, but he was sure Jenn would understand if he could explain in person. Jenn would acknowledge the strain he had been under back then as thirty years’ work came under attack. She would forgive his missteps. She was a loving, compassionate girl. And she was his.
In the third year of her marriage, Jenn returned to the U.S. and moved into her mother’s condo to await the birth of her first child. Her blood pressure had been elevated, and Arun had insisted she get U.S.-style prenatal care. Jenn had been reluctant to leave their clients, for whom she had deep affection. But she had agreed with Arun that her first duty was to her child. She'd told him he needn’t accompany her because Maggie would provide support. But when the birth turned out to be hard on both mother and baby, she felt his absence keenly. The baby spent two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Jenn hovering over him, spelled by Maggie until Arun arrived. Neither parent slept much until their son was pronounced out of all danger. Jenn sent Arun back to India then, saying she and the baby would join him later. She did not set a date.
The ordeal of her son’s birth changed Jenn. She had expected to feel as vulnerable as the next new mom, but not to feel so frail. And despite the doctors’ reassurances, she worried about the baby’s fragility. The thought of managing a health crisis in the deep Indian countryside terrified her. She put off her return. After a month of frustrating phone calls, Arun offered to come to New Jersey to fetch her. She told him she needed a bit more time. He said that she would not be content to lead a purely personal life, ignoring the larger needs of the community. He said she should come home.
Jenn spent the next few weeks deep in thought while she changed diapers and pumped breast milk for her thriving baby boy. She felt an overwhelming need to protect him, even at the expense of commitment to her cause. She asked for her mother’s counsel. Maggie said since the baby was healthy, he would be better off living with both parents. Then Jenn called her father, who had not yet seen his grandson. With a burst of enthusiasm, Paul invited her to come to L.A., saying he’d help her find an apartment near his house and a job with a nonprofit. He said she didn’t need Arun and India to do good.
And that did it.
His callousness released something in her. She made up her mind to rejoin her husband, because that’s where she belonged. With Arun, and their work, and their family. Life at its fullest.