Love and Other Words

Page 21


I shake my head. “Excited.”

“Me too. I’ve never met him.”

“I meant I’m excited for a day off, you little enabler. But since you mention it, you’ve never met Nikki or Danny, either,” I remind her.

Sabrina laughs, stepping closer so she can put her arm around my shoulders. “I know you’ve known them since grade school, but I think we both know who I’m most curious about.”

I glance behind us, to where Sean and Dave have disappeared from view. “Sean seems zero percent weird about the Elliot thing.”

“Isn’t that good?”

I shrug. “Sure. But I still feel guilty for how much I’m thinking about Elliot and the past, then when I talk to Sean about it, he’s like – ‘It’s cool, babe, no big deal.’ But maybe it’s because I’m not being totally honest with him about how it feels to see Elliot? Though,” I add, thinking out loud, “Sean assumed right away that it was more than just catching up with an old friend when I brought it up, but it didn’t even really rankle him. Is that weird?”

Sabrina answers my babble with a helpless look. At least I’m not the only one who’s confused.

I groan. “I’m probably just overthinking it.”

“Oh, I’m sure you are.” I hear the twist in her voice, the complete lack of conviction, but I don’t have time to question it because I see Nikki and Danny walking down the path toward us. Taking off at a jog, I run to them, throwing my arms around Nikki first, and then Danny.

Although I’ve been back in the Bay Area for about six months, I haven’t seen them yet, and it’s wonderfully surreal to see how they’ve changed, and – even more so – how they haven’t. Nikki I met in the third grade when we were tablemates, and her parents clearly did a better job than most at coaching her through having a friend who lost her mom the following year, because while Nikki didn’t always know what to say, she never stopped trying, either. Danny moved to Berkeley from L.A. when we were in sixth grade, so he missed the worst of my heartbreak and subsequent social fumbles, but he’s always been on the low-drama, oblivious end of things anyway.

And to eyes that haven’t seen her in nearly seven years, Nikki looks amazing. We both have South American blood, but whereas I inherited my mom’s small stature and dark skin over Dad’s height and fair complexion, Nikki is light-skinned and green-eyed, and has owned her naturally curvy body type her whole life. Now she looks like the captain of some high-octane competitive sport.

By contrast, Danny looks like every other twenty-eight-year-old guy living in Berkeley: slightly underweight, smiling, mildly unshowered.

We’re just starting our catch-up – turns out Nikki is coaching women’s basketball at Berkeley High, and Danny is a programmer working from home – when my attention is caught over Sabrina’s shoulder.

I see a figure climb out of a well-loved blue Honda Civic, grab a sweater from the back seat, and begin his even, long stride straight toward us. I know he’s seen me, and wonder whether his limbs go all wobbly the way mine still do when I see him.

“Elliot’s here,” I say, catching the jittery waver to my words a little too late to stop them.

“Here we go,” Sabrina sings to herself, and I can’t even pull my eyes away long enough to glare at her.

“Elliot-Elliot?” Nikki asks, eyes wide. “As in secret Elliot?”

Danny turns and looks. “Who?”

“Oh, my God,” Nikki whispers, “I am so excited right now.”

“Same!” Sabrina claps, and I realize now Elliot is facing a wall of women – and Danny – all waiting with giant smiles for his arrival.

“Is Elliot Macy’s boyfriend?” Danny asks out of the side of his mouth, and then turns to Sabrina of all people, adding, “Oh, wait, this is the guy from the vacation town.”

“Elliot was her boyfriend,” Sabrina confirms in a delighted, scandalized whisper.

“For about ten minutes,” I remind her.

“For about five years,” she corrects me. “And considering you’re only twenty-eight, that’s a big chunk of your dating life.”

I groan, wondering for the first time whether this is all a terrible idea.

Sabrina has met Sean three times now, and while she insists that she likes him, she thinks he’s “oddly shallow for an artist” and “doesn’t give her very warm vibes.” It doesn’t help that she met Dave our freshman year at Tufts and they dated for seven years before getting married, so a two-month dating span pre-engagement is unfathomable to her. It just sets off her alarm bells.

Before Sean, I had a few relationships, but as Sabrina reminds me, I was “that annoying friend who could find fault with anyone.” She’s not wrong. To review: Julian was weirdly attached to his guitar. Ashton was a terrible kisser, and no matter how adorable or fun he was, it was impossible to move past that. Jaden had a drinking problem, Matt was too fratty, and Rob was too emotional.

After meeting Sean for the first time, Sabrina asked me what I thought I was going to find wrong with him. And of course, being only a couple of months into it and deep in the infatuation stage, my answer was a semi-tipsy “Nothing!”

But in the private space of my own thoughts, I can’t really blame her for thinking Sean isn’t very warm. He’s great in social situations, but I do know there’s something arm’s-length about him. He answers questions using as few words as possible, shows limited interest in my friends, lets emotional conversations go for about three minutes before he changes the subject, and outwardly isn’t very affectionate with anyone but Phoebe.

But, I don’t know. There’s an element of comfort in that reserve. It makes sense to me, because as much as I let Elliot into my emotional headspace, I was never able to let anyone else in afterward. It was too hard. Maybe it’s the same for Sean with Ashley; we are broken in the same way. On the spectrum of progressive men, Sean and Elliot are about as different as they could possibly be.

I need a Sean in my life.

I need an Elliot about as much as I need a hole in the head.

Elliot comes up with a smile that mirrors ours, looking at each of us in turn. “I assume this is the welcoming committee?”

Sabrina steps forward, hand extended. Her words come out high and breathless. “I’m Sabrina. I was Macy’s college roommate, and I have wanted to meet you forrrevverrrrrr.”

He bursts out laughing, looking at me with raised brows.

I put my hand on her shoulder, stage-whispering, “Take it down a notch.”

Elliot opts to give her a hug over a handshake. Sabrina is on the tall side, but Elliot dwarfs her, wrapping her in arms that are surprisingly muscular, running tan and toned beyond the short sleeves of his black T-shirt. He tucks his face close to her as they hug, and I realize, with that one movement, Elliot has just endeared himself to Sabrina for all eternity. No one loves a good hug more than she does.

“Well,” he says, stepping back and smiling at her, “it’s nice to finally meet you.”

Sabrina looks like she is going to pass out from elation. Turning, Elliot gazes at me expectantly.

“Nikki,” I prompt, pointing. “And this is Danny.”

I see the reaction move across Elliot’s expression, the response to names he’s heard for so long but faces he’s only ever seen in photos. “Ah, okay,” he says, smiling and shaking Danny’s hand before embracing Nikki. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I laugh, because what he’s heard is all from the drama of high school. I wonder if he’s thinking what I am, about Nikki’s wild side and Danny’s awkward boners. Elliot catches my eyes, and the glimmer there tells me I’m right. He suppresses a smile, and I bite my lip to do the same.

“All right,” I say, “let’s go find the food.”

Dave and Sean have a nice little spot set up in the shade. Phoebe is drawing quietly on a blanket, Viv is asleep in the stroller, and the two guys are talking, but I can see Dave throw Sabrina a rescue me look as we approach. It makes protectiveness for Sean flare inside me, but the feeling is drenched by a flush of adrenaline when he stands, wiping his hands on his jeans and moving toward us. Toward Elliot.

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