Love and Other Words

Page 20

“Well, that’s an oddly specific place to put something like that. Don’t you think?”

“Why were you in his closet?” he asked.

“That’s not the point, Elliot.”

“It’s precisely the point, Mace.”


He placed a bookmark between the pages and sat up to face me, forcing me to sit up, too.

“He’s a man. A single man.” Elliot used the tip of his index finger to push his glasses up and held my gaze sternly. “His bedroom is his fortress of solitude – his closet is his vault. You might as well have been looking in his nightstand drawer or under his mattress.” My eyes widened. “What were you expecting to find on the top shelf in the far corner of his closet behind the nativity scene?”

“Photo albums? Cherished mementos of a lost youth? Winter sweaters? Things of a parental nature?” I paused, giving him a guilty smile. “My Christmas presents?”

Shaking his head, he turned back to his book. “Snooping will always end badly, Mace. Always.”

I considered this. Dad didn’t date much… well, ever, that I could think of, spending most of his time at work or with me. I’d never given a moment of thought to this sort of thing where he was concerned. I found the bent corner in my copy of A Wrinkle in Time and settled back onto the patch of grass behind me. “It’s just… gross. That’s all.”

Elliot laughed: a loud, abrupt snort, followed by a shake of his head.

Glaring at him, I asked, “Did you just shake your head at me?”

“I did.” He used a finger to hold his place in the book. “Why is it gross? The fact that your dad has the magazines or that he uses them to —”

Reflexively, I covered my ears. “Nope. Nope. I swear if you finish that sentence I will kick you in the balls, Elliot Petropoulos. Not everyone does that.”

Elliot didn’t answer, just picked up his book and continued reading.

“Do they?” I asked weakly.

He turned his head to look at me. “Yes. They do.”

I was silent for a moment while I digested that. “So… you do that, too?”

The flush crawling up his neck betrayed his embarrassment, but after a few seconds, he nodded.

“A lot?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I suppose that depends on your definition of ‘a lot.’ I’m a fifteen-year-old guy with an awesome imagination. That should pretty much answer your question.”

I felt like we’d discovered a new hallway door leading into a new room, which contained a new everything. “What do you think about? When you do that, I mean.”

My heart was a jackhammer beneath my ribs.

“Kissing. Touching. Sex. Parts I don’t have and things people do with them,” he added with a wiggle of his brows. I rolled my eyes. “Hands. Hair. Legs. Dragons. Books. Mouths. Words… lips…” He trailed off and buried his nose in his book again.

“Wow,” I said. “Did you say dragons?”

He shrugged but didn’t look at me again. I eyed him curiously. The mention of books and words and lips had not escaped my attention.

“Like I said,” he mumbled into the pages, “I have an awesome imagination.”


saturday, october 14


kay, is it possible I’m beginning to appreciate my scrubs?” I groan.

Sean pokes his head into the bedroom. “What’s the problem, babe?”

“Nothing,” I say, throwing another shirt onto the pile of rejects on the bed. “It’s just – I haven’t seen some of these people in forever. And we’re having a picnic. I need to look all cute and frolicky because I never get to wear actual clothes. I think I’ve forgotten how to dress.”

“I thought you got dressed up for your dinner last week with him?”

“I don’t just mean Elliot.”

Sean’s playful smirk tells me he thinks I’m full of shit, and it makes me laugh but then immediately gives me pause. It actually isn’t about looking cute and frolicky for Elliot; he’s seen me in everything from formal wear to frumpy overalls to nothing at all. And maybe it’s just a chick thing – and explaining it makes it sound absurd – but I want to look cute for my girlfriends. But if Sean thinks I’m agonizing over what to wear for Elliot, shouldn’t that bother him, even a little?

Apparently not, because he ducks back out, returning to the basket of food he’s packing for the day. I love how much he loves to cook, especially because it is in direct proportion to how much I hate it.

I hear him mumble something quietly, and then Phoebe comes in, taking a leap and soaring onto the pile of clothes in the middle of the comforter.

“When are we going to the Bojangles garden?”

I plant a kiss on her forehead. “Botanical. And we’re leaving in…” I glance at the clock on the nightstand. “Oof, twenty minutes.”

“I like what you’re wearing,” she says, waving vaguely in my direction. “Daddy says it’s wasteful when I change clothes too often.”

There are moments I feel it’s my job to impart some sort of feminist wisdom to Phoebs, but, as usual, Sean’s way ahead of me.

Having lost interest in my fashion dilemma, she flops over dramatically. “I’m hungry.”

“Want me to get you something? There were some strawberries earlier.”

She wrinkles her nose. “No thanks, I’ll ask Daddy.”

She stands, just as Sean calls from the other room, having heard us, “I’ve got a banana you can eat, Applejack. All the strawberries are already packed up for the picnic.”

And before I get any more of her, Phoebe is already out the door and back in the other room. When I think about it, I’ve had maybe a half hour with her this entire week. I always tell myself that just having a Mom Presence is a big deal for her, but as we’ve just witnessed, am I even that? And does she need it? I half wonder whether what Sean mumbled to her before she came in was a reminder that she needs to make me feel welcome here, and to come say hi.

God, I’m being ridiculous. But really, Sean and Phoebe seem entirely self-sufficient as a little twosome. I never felt that way about me and Dad. We loved each other, of course, but without Mom we were both sort of lost, arms outstretched as we tried to fumble through each day.

For about the millionth time I wonder about Ashley, and what kind of wife she must have been to Sean, back during a time before he was the hot new artist in San Francisco, when he was still just a starving artist, marrying a woman on her way to MBA stardom in finance. I know Phoebe came before they’d planned to have kids, and when Ashley was still climbing the ladder. Was she ever home? Did Sean raise little Phoebe, hands-on every second until she started school, the way Mom raised me?

How would my life be different if Dad had been home more when I was little? How would it have been different if he died when I was ten, not Mom?

I feel sick at the thought, as if I’ve just wished for some alternate reality that would kill my father first. Guilt-stricken, I say a quiet “I didn’t mean it” to the air around me, wanting to take back whatever bad thing I might have just thrown out. Even though he’s already gone, too.

Sean and Phoebe entertain themselves with a game of I Spy during the short drive to the park. Sabrina and Dave are waiting for us with little Viv in a complicated stroller-ish contraption when we arrive. Sean, Dave, and the kids go into the park to find a good spot, while Sabrina waits for the others with me closer to the parking lot.

I watch the two men walk away, admiring them from behind.

“Those are some fine men,” I say, and then turn to find Sabrina watching me intensely. “What?”

“How’re you doing?” she says. “You look sexy today.”

I glance down at what I finally settled on for the unseasonably warm day: a white tank, cute cuffed jeans, and a chunky gold necklace. Having pulled my long hair up into a very intentionally and artfully messy bun, I suddenly wonder if I look like I’ve tried way too hard – I knew the necklace was too much. Sabrina is wearing old cutoffs and a nursing shirt. “Did I try too hard? I always worry that I’ve forgotten how to dress myself.”

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