Love and Other Words

Page 19

The table fell quiet, and I heard Miss Dina swallow a few times before she said brightly, “Perfect! Let’s eat!”

And the routine dissolved as frenzy took over, with four teenage boys diving into the food. Rolls were passed, turkey and gravy were slopped onto my plate, and I savored every single bite.

It wasn’t as good as Mom’s everyday cooking, and Mom was missing something she would have absolutely loved – a room full of boisterous family – but it was the best Thanksgiving I’d ever had. I didn’t even feel guilty for feeling that way, because I know Mom would want me to have more, and better, forever.

Back home later, Dad walked me upstairs, standing behind me and brushing my hair like he used to do while I brushed my teeth.

“I’m sorry I was so quiet tonight,” he said, haltingly.

I met his eyes in the mirror. “I like your kind of quiet. Your heart isn’t quiet.”

He bent, pressing his cheek to my temple, and smiled at me in the mirror. “You’re an amazing girl, Macy Lea.”


friday, october 13


ore miraculous even than a full night’s sleep is the prospect of a full day off on a weekend. Getting a free Saturday feels like being ten years old and holding a twenty-dollar bill in a candy store. I don’t even know where to start.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I know I don’t want to spend a second of the day indoors. The Mission Bay site for UCSF Children’s has windows everywhere, but when you’re a pediatric resident, you don’t notice anything but the child in front of you, or your chief telling you where you need to be next.

Friday afternoon, on a short break after rounds, I remind Sean of our plans to picnic at Golden Gate Park. I call Sabrina, confirming that she, Dave, and Viv can all come. I invite a couple old friends from my Berkeley neighborhood who still live in the area – Nikki and Danny. And then I get back to work with the feeling of buzzing in my ears, static in my thoughts. I can’t leave this unfinished all day.

After delivering an update on some bloodwork to my current favorite parents, whose daughter is an inpatient in oncology, I sprint to the break room, ducking behind the locker to grab my phone and text Elliot.


wednesday, december 31

fourteen years ago


oys suck.”

The wind whipped across us where we were hunkered down at Goat Rock Beach again, preparing for a weenie roast with our families, flag football, and New Year’s Eve fireworks over the ocean.

“Do I want to know?” Elliot asked, not even looking up from his book.

“Probably not.”

In all fairness, I didn’t have strong feelings for any boys at my school, but it seemed like – since we began high school four months ago – none of them had any feelings whatsoever for me. Danny, my best guy friend, told me that his friends Gabe and Tyler both thought I was cute but, as he put it, “A little too, like, into books.”

I couldn’t escape it; everyone was starting to “go out with” everyone else. I hadn’t even so much as kissed a boy.

Guess I’d be going to the ninth-grade dance with Nikki.

Elliot glanced over at me. “Can you tell me more about how boys suck?”

“Boys don’t want girls who are interesting,” I complained. “They want girls with boobs and who wear slutty clothes, and flirt.”

Elliot slowly put his book down on a patch of beach grass beside him. “I don’t want that.”

Ignoring this, I went on, “And girls do want boys who are interesting. Girls want the shy geeks who know everything and have big hands and good teeth and say sweet things.” I bit my lips closed. I might have said too much.

Elliot beamed at me, metal finally gone, his teeth perfect. “Do you like my teeth?”

“You’re weird.” Changing the subject, I asked, “Favorite word?”

He stared out at the ocean for a few breaths before saying, “Cynosure.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It’s a focal point of admiration. What about you?”

I didn’t even have to think: “Castration.”

Elliot winced. He stared down at his hands in his lap, turning them over and inspecting them carefully. “Well, for what it’s worth,” he whispered, “Andreas thinks you’re cute.”

“Andreas?” I heard the shock in my own voice. I narrowed my eyes as I stared down the beach at where Andreas and George wrestled, and tried to imagine kissing Andreas. His skin was good, but his hair was too shaggy for my taste and he was a little bit of a meathead.

“He said that? He’s with Amie.”

Elliot scowled, picking up a small rock and throwing it toward the thrashing surf. “They broke up. But I told him if he touched you I would kick his ass.”

I barked out a loud laugh.

Elliot was too rational to be offended by my reaction: what Andreas lacked in brains he made up in serious muscle.

“Yeah, so, he tackled me. We wrestled. We broke Mom’s vase, you know that ugly one in the hall?”

“Oh no!” My distress was convincing, but I was mostly elated they’d been fighting over me.

“She grounded us both.”

I bit my lip, trying not to laugh. Instead, I stretched out on the sand, returning to my book, and lost myself in the words, reading over and over again the same phrase: It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.

Hours may have passed before I heard a throat clear behind us, saw Dad appear. His frame blocked out the sun, casting a cool shadow over where we lay.

I registered only once he was there that I had slowly shifted so I was lying with my head on Elliot’s stomach, in our secluded stretch of sand. I pushed to sit up, awkwardly.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Nothing,” we said in unison.

I could hear immediately how guilty our joined answer made us sound.

“Really?” Dad asked.

“Really,” I answered, but he wasn’t looking at me anymore. He and Elliot were having some kind of male Windtalker exchange that included prolonged eye contact, throat clearing, and probably some mysterious form of direct communication between their Y chromosomes.

“We were just reading,” Elliot said finally, his voice shifting deeper midway through the sentence. I’m not sure if this sign of his impending manliness was reassuring or damning as far as my dad was concerned.

“Seriously, Dad,” I said.

His eyes flickered to mine.

“Okay.” Finally he seemed to relax and squatted down next to me. “What are you reading?”

“A Wrinkle in Time.”


“It’s so good.”

He smiled at me, reaching out to swipe his thumb along my cheek. “Hungry?”


Dad nodded and stood, making his way toward where Mr. Nick was busy building a fire.

A few seconds passed before it seemed like Elliot was able to exhale.

“Seriously. I think his palms are the size of my entire face.”

I imagined Dad’s hand gripping Elliot’s entire face, and for some reason the image was so comical it made me laugh out a sharp cackle.

“What?” Elliot asked.

“Just, that image is funny.”

“Not if you’re me and he’s looking at you like he has a shovel with your name on it.”

“Oh, please.” I gaped at him.

“Trust me, Macy. I know dads and daughters.”

“Speaking of my dad,” I said, adjusting my head on his stomach to be more comfortable, “guess what I found last week?”


“He has dirty magazines. A lot of them.”

Elliot didn’t respond, but I definitely felt him shift beneath me.

“They’re in a basket on the top shelf in the far corner of his closet at the cabin. Behind the nativity scene.” This last part felt somehow very important.

“That was oddly specific.” His voice vibrated along the back of my head, and goose bumps spread across my arms.

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