Love and Other Words

Page 18

It doesn’t set off alarm bells in my head, sure, but it doesn’t send goose bumps across my skin, either. It doesn’t make my chest ache so deliciously I’m nearly breathless. I don’t feel urgent, or desperate, or too hot in my own skin because I’m so hungry for him. And in a tight gasp that Sean reads as pleasure, I worry that Elliot is right and I’m wrong and – like always – he’s taking care of both of our hearts while I flop around, trying to figure it all out.

I feel my thoughts circling something, the same thing over and over: how Elliot went home after seeing me and broke up with Rachel.

He only had to see me to know, whereas I can barely trust a single feeling I have.


wednesday, november 26

fourteen years ago


ad pushed the cart down the aisle, coming to a stop in front of a freezer case full of enormous turkeys.

We stared down at them together. Although Dad and I carried on many traditions since Mom died, we’d never done Thanksgiving alone.

Then again, we never really did it with her, either. With two twenty-first-century, first-generation immigrants as parents, Thanksgiving wasn’t really a holiday any of us had cared much about. But we had the cabin now, and nearly a week off with nothing else to do but capably chop firewood and read in front of the flames. It felt wasteful, in a totally illogical way, to not at least attempt the holiday meal.

But standing here, faced with the prospect of making such an enormous production for two, cooking felt decidedly more wasteful.

“These are thirteen pounds,” Dad said, “at minimum.” With an expression of mild distaste, he hefted a bird out of the case and inspected it.

“Don’t they just have the…” I waved my hand toward the butcher, to the breasts displayed there.

Dad stared at me, not getting it. “The what?”

“You know, just smaller parts?”

He guffawed. “The breasts?”

I groaned, walking past him to find a bone-in turkey breast we could roast in less than half a day.

Coming up behind me, Dad said, “These are a more appropriate size.” Leaning in, he added with a repressed laugh, “Decent-sized breasts.”

Mortified, I shoved him away and moved to the produce section to get potatoes. Standing there, with baby Alex in a sling, was Elliot’s mom, Miss Dina.

She had a cart full of food, a phone to her ear as she chatted with someone, the sleeping baby against her chest, and she inspected yellow onions as if she had all the time in the world. She’d given birth three months ago and was here, preparing to cook a huge meal for her troop of ravenous boys.

I stared at her, feeling the twisting combination of admiration and defeat. Miss Dina made things look so easy; Dad and I could barely figure out how to make a holiday meal for two.

She did a tiny double take when she saw me, and for maybe the first time in my life I imagined myself through someone else’s eyes: my swim team track pants, the baggy Yale sweatshirt Dad got for Mom years ago, flip-flops. And I stood, staring at the breadth of the produce, motherless and clearly overwhelmed.

Miss Dina ended her call and pushed her cart over to me.

She looked at my face, then let her eyes move all the way down to my toes and back up. “You and your dad are planning to cook tomorrow?”

I gave her what I hoped was a humorously confident grin. “We’re going to try.”

She winced, looking past me and pretending to fret. “Macy,” she said, leaning in conspiratorially, “I have more food than I know what to do with, and with little Alex here… it would help me out a lot if you and your dad would come over. If you could help me peel potatoes and make the rolls, you’d be a lifesaver.”

Not in a million years would I have said no.

It smelled like baking pie crust, melted butter, and turkey all day – even in our house. The wind carried the smells of cooking into our window, and my stomach gnawed at itself.

Miss Dina had told us to come over at three, and I couldn’t even count on Elliot to entertain me until then because, no doubt, he’d been put to work.

I heard the lawn mower going, the vacuum running inside. And, of course, I heard the roar of football on the living room television, filtering from their house to ours. By the time we made our way over with wine and flowers at two minutes before three o’clock, I was nearly insane with anticipation.

Dad made a good living, and our house in Berkeley had every material possession we could possibly need or want. But what we could never buy was chaos and bustle. We lacked noise, and strife, and the joy of overstuffed plates because everyone insisted that their favorite dish be made.

Just inside their door we were pulled like metal to magnets into the madness. George and Andreas shouted at the television. In the easy chair in the corner, Mr. Nick blew exuberant raspberries on Alex’s tummy. Nick Jr. was polishing the dining room table while Miss Dina poured melted butter into the crossed tops of rolls to put in the oven, and Elliot stood over the sink, peeling potatoes.

I ran to him, reaching to take the peeler out of his hand. “I told your mom I would peel those!”

He blinked at me in surprise, reaching with a potato skin–covered finger to push his glasses up. I knew that helping her with dinner was just a ruse – after all, I’d been smelling the food all day – but for whatever reason, I was unable to give it up.

The thing is, at fourteen I was old enough to understand that many of the people who had lived in Healdsburg for many years would not have been able to afford to live in Berkeley. Although Healdsburg had been taken over by Bay Area money and the wine craze of the nineties, many people who lived here still worked for hourly wages and lived in older, mildly soggy houses.

The wealth here was what was inside: the Petropoulos family and the warmth and the knowledge – passed down through generations – of how to cook a meal like this for a family of this size.

I watched as Miss Dina gave Elliot a different job – washing and chopping lettuce for the salad – which he did without complaint or instruction.

Meanwhile, I hacked at the potatoes until Miss Dina came in and showed me how to peel them more slowly, in long, smooth strips.

“Nice dress,” Elliot said once she’d left, his voice laced with delicate sarcasm.

I looked down at the frumpy denim jumper I wore. “Thanks. It was my mom’s.”

His eyes went wide. “Oh, my God, Macy, I’m sor —”

I threw a piece of potato skin at him. “I’m kidding. Dad got it for me. I felt like I needed to wear it sometime.”

He looked scandalized, then he grinned.

“You’re evil,” he hissed.

“You mess with the bull,” I said, holding up my index and pinkie fingers, “you get the horns.”

I felt him watching me and hoped he saw my smile.

Mom always had a wicked sense of humor.

Dad sat, watching the Niners game with feigned interest with Mr. Nick and the boys until Miss Dina called us in to eat.

There was a ritual once we were at the table, a choreographed scene that Dad and I followed carefully: everyone sat in their chairs and linked hands. Mr. Nick said grace, and then everyone went around in turn and said something they were thankful for this year.

George was thankful for making varsity track.

Miss Dina was thankful for her healthy baby girl (who slept quietly in a vibrating baby chair near the table).

Nick Jr. was thankful that he was nearly done with his first semester of college, because, man, it sucked.

Dad was thankful for a good year in business and a wonderful daughter.

Andreas was thankful for his girlfriend, Amie.

Mr. Nick was thankful for his boys, and his – now two – girls. He winked at his wife.

Elliot was thankful for the Sorensen family, and especially for Macy, who he missed during the week when she was back home.

I sat, staring at him and trying to find something else to say, something as good as that.

I focused on a spot on the table as I spoke, my words wavering. “I’m thankful that high school isn’t terrible so far. I’m thankful I didn’t get Mr. Syne for math.” I looked up at Elliot. “But mostly, I’m thankful we bought this house, and that I was able to make a friend who wouldn’t make me feel weird for being sad about my mom, or wanting to be quiet, and who will always have to explain things to me twice because he’s so much smarter than I am. I’m thankful that his family is so nice, and his mom makes such good dinners, and Dad and I didn’t have to try to make a turkey all by ourselves.”

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