I loved it.
Sometimes, sea lions and elephant seals lazed at the mouth of the river. Dark, rich seaweed washed up on shore, heavy with salt and nearly unreal to me in its otherworldly, translucent oddness. Sand dunes dotted the shoreline, and in the center of the beach and out a narrow isthmus was the lonely giant rock jutting straight up more than a hundred feet as if it had been dropped there.
“You could invite Elliot, if you wanted,” he added.
I looked up at him and nodded.
The entire drive there, Elliot was fidgety. He shifted in his seat, tugged at his seat belt, ran his hand through his hair, futzed with his headgear. After about ten minutes, I gave up on trying to focus on my book.
“What’s with you?” I hissed across the back seat.
He glanced at Dad in the driver’s seat, and then back at me. “Nothing.”
I felt more than saw Dad looking in the rearview mirror at what was going on in the back seat.
I stared at Elliot’s hands, reaching now to toy with the strap of his backpack. They looked different. Bigger. He was still so skinny, but also so at home in his gawkiness that I didn’t notice it anymore unless I really looked.
Dad pulled into the parking lot and we stepped out, shocked at how the wind nearly knocked us over. We jerked our coats on, pulled our hats over our ears.
“No farther down the beach than the rock,” Dad said, pulling his own treat – a pack of Danish cigarettes – out of his pocket. He never smoked near me; he’d officially quit as soon as Mom found out she was pregnant. The wind pushed his fair hair across his face and he shook it away, squinting at me, saying without words, You okay with this?, and I nodded. He tucked a cigarette between his lips, adding, “And at least fifty feet back from the seals.”
Elliot and I trudged over a sand dune, standing at the top and staring out at the ocean. “Your dad intimidates the hell out of me.”
I laughed. “Because he’s tall?”
“Tall,” he agreed, “and quiet. He has the commanding-presence thing down.”
“He just says a lot more with his eyes than with his mouth.”
“Unfortunately for me, I don’t speak Danish Eyeball.”
I laughed again and looked at Elliot’s profile as he stared out at the crashing waves.
“I didn’t know he smoked,” he said.
“Only a couple times a year. It’s his private luxury, I guess.”
Elliot nodded, blurting, “Okay, look. I got you a Christmas present.”
“Ever-gracious Macy.” With a smile, he began walking back down the other side of the sand dune toward the beach, and only now did I notice a small wrapped package tucked beneath his arm. We navigated through thick sand, driftwood, and small hills of seaweed before reaching a tiny alcove, mostly guarded from the wind.
Sitting, he shifted the package into both hands, staring down at it. From the shape, I could tell it was a book. “I didn’t expect you to get me anything,” he said, nervously. “I’m always hanging out at your place on the weekends you’re here, so I feel like I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me anything.” I worked to tamp down the emotion I felt that he got me a book. Not just because it’s what we did together – read – but because of what I’d told him last night, about Mom, and gifts. “You know you can always come over. I don’t have siblings. It’s just me and Dad.”
“Well,” he said, handing me the package, “maybe that’s sort of why I got this.”
Curious, I tore open the paper and looked down. I nearly lost the wrapping paper to a brutal gust of wind.
Bridge to Terabithia.
“Have you read it?” Elliot asked.
I shook my head, pulling my windblown hair out of my face. “I’ve heard of it.” I saw him exhale quietly in relief. “I think.”
He nodded, and seeming to be more settled, bent to pick up a stone to throw into the surf.
“Thank you,” I told him, though I wasn’t sure he heard me over the roar of the ocean.
Elliot looked up and smiled at me. “I hope you like it as much as I did. I sort of feel like I could be your May Belle.”
thursday, october 5
My phone vibrates in my messenger bag on the bus, conveniently waking me only a block from my stop.
I pull it out, realizing that it’s nearly two in the morning again and I’m staring down at Viv’s little face on the screen.
“Viv, you’ve learned technology so quickly!” I say, standing to pull my bag over my shoulder and make my way unsteadily down the narrow bus aisle.
Sabrina laughs on the other end. “I totally ganked your phone when you went to order food, and changed my profile pic. Your passcodes are so adorably predictable.”
I growl, trying to be annoyed, but really, only two people would know the four-digit pin I use for nearly everything: Sabrina and Elliot. It’s my lucky number, fifteen, repeated.
“I’ll change it,” I tell her, thanking the bus driver with a smile he ignores as I step down and onto my street.
“Don’t,” Sabrina cautions. “You’ll forget it.”
“I’ll have you know I’m great with numbers.”
Silence greets me on the other end of the line, and I amend, “At least, the math kind of numbers, when they’re right in front of me and I have a pencil.” I stare up the steep hill I still need to climb before I can be in bed. “Did you call just to harass me? What are you even doing up?”
“I’m feeding the baby, obviously. I assumed you’d be on your way home. I called to check up on you. You fled yesterday.”
Nodding, I begin my slow trudge uphill. The air is dense with moisture, and the incline, after the day I had, feels nearly vertical. “Elliot caught me on the sidewalk.”
“Figured that when he sprinted out of there.”
“He wasn’t super happy with me for, you know, losing touch.”
I hear her quiet scoff. “‘Losing touch’?” she repeats. “Is that what we’re calling it?”
Ignoring this, I say, “He tracked me down again today. He broke up with his girlfriend last night after seeing me.”
Sabrina coos through the line, and I stop walking.
“What is that noise you’re making?” I ask.
“It’s sweet, that’s all.”
“You’re on his side?”
Her tiny beat of silence communicates the magnitude of her disbelief. “You’re telling me there was absolutely no swooning when he told you that?”
“You just don’t like Sean.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. He’s the first guy who’s managed to last beyond three dates; of course I like him. He deserves my esteem for beating that record.”
I am so tired, I can feel the unreasonable coming out. Tight defensiveness rises up in my chest, kick-starting my pulse. “Okay, let me clarify: you don’t want me to marry Sean.”
“Macy, honey, I don’t want you to marry Sean – yet – that’s true. But that’s unrelated to me also wanting you to reconnect with Elliot. I adore you, you know this, but you’ve told me what it was like when your mom died. How hard you worked to keep everyone out or at arm’s length – a can of worms we could totally open up, if you have the time —”
“My point is that you could never shut out Elliot. He’s your soul mate. You think I don’t know that?”
I nod, walking again. I’ve been on my feet for so long that my toes are numb in my shoes. I’m essentially just shuffling slowly uphill. “I’m so tired.”
“Oh, honey,” she says gently.
“And there’s something else,” I say, hesitating.
“He didn’t know about my dad.” The truth of that one still stings.
Sabrina gasps. “What?”
“I know. That part’s all my fault, I get that.” I rub my face. “I just assumed he would have heard about it… through the grapevine.”
She’s gone quiet, and it’s the quiet that nearly breaks me because, holy hell, I am a monster. Sabrina must be thinking for the thousandth time that I am dead inside.