Love and Other Words

Page 22

What am I even doing?

I introduce Sean to Nikki and Danny first – the easy ones. Danny is clearly bewildered about what the hell is going on when he hears me say the word fiancé, and glances to Elliot as if he’s missed something important.

Sean turns to Elliot, and static hums all around me. The tension is clear in Elliot, too: in his shoulders, and across his brow. Sean is as relaxed as ever.

“Sean, this is Elliot,” I say, adding inexplicably, “my oldest friend.”

“Hey!” Nikki says, and Danny choruses the sentiment as soon as it sinks in what I said.

I laugh. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just —”

Elliot comes to my rescue, saying, “Nice to meet you, Sean,” as he reaches to shake Sean’s hand, and God, this is so awkward. On so many levels.

Sean smiles easily and winks at me. “I thought I was your oldest friend?”

Everyone laughs cordially at this, and Sean releases Elliot’s hand, turning to lay an enormous kiss on my mouth. And seriously, what the hell? Is Sean jealous, or not? It catches me so off guard I don’t even close my eyes, which fly to Elliot’s face. His chest moves backward with the force of his shocked inhalation. He recovers by moving away quickly, sitting down beside Phoebe and Dave, introducing himself. As Sean steps away from me, I hear the deep tenor of Elliot’s voice asking what Phoebe’s drawing.

Nostalgia wipes over my thoughts, taking me back to when Elliot would sit with baby Alex like this, gently observing, quietly praising. Now he picks up a crayon, asking if she’ll show him how to draw a flower like she does.

“Ovary explosion,” Sabrina mumbles in my ear, pretending to be kissing my cheek.

“Something like that,” I whisper, wiping my hands on my jeans. I think I’m actually sweating.

We unpack the food, handing out sandwiches, drinks, and fruit to everyone. Conversation eases as soon as Nikki starts talking basketball, because Dave is a former basketball player himself and thank God for the two of them being here, because they carry the enthusiasm required for any good picnic. When Viv wakes up, Phoebe gets to hold her, and the joy in her eyes turns us into cooing, adoring messes. All in all, it goes how a picnic should: eating, talking, a few minor insect battles, and the semi-discomfort of sitting on blankets in the grass.

But something irreparable has happened in my heart. This shaking of my conviction started with the sex I could barely have with Sean the other morning, and it continued ripping down the middle today with the two of them here. I know Sabrina notices the looks Elliot and I can’t seem to stop sharing. Maybe she notices, too, the way Sean and I barely interact.

It’s hitting me at such an odd time that Elliot is here, he’s here. He’s back in front of me, accessible. I could reach out and touch him. I could crawl over to him, into his lap, feel the warmth of his arms around me.

He could be mine, still.

Why didn’t I have this reaction when I should have – two weeks ago?

I reel back through all the things that have happened to me since our falling-out, and other than Dad dying, nothing else feels all that significant. It’s as if life was just on hold, I was moving along, getting things done, but not really living. Is that awful, or fantastic? I have no idea.

Sabrina’s hand comes over mine on the picnic blanket, and I meet her eyes, wondering how much she reads on my face.

“Okay there?” she asks, and I nod, forcing a smile and wishing like hell I believed it.


twelve years ago


he only reason I made it through freshman and most of sophomore year was because of Elliot – and Dad’s willingness to spend nearly every weekend up in Healdsburg. The weekends we were up there were spent reading, tromping through the forest, and on occasional outings to Santa Rosa. Once, Elliot and I even ventured together as far as a concert all the way down in Oakland. Elliot was more family than friend, but over time, he became more personal in some ways than family, too.

But what all of this closeness meant was that whenever we missed a weekend at the cabin, the intervening weeks seemed interminable. We both did well in school, but I hated the social posturing and politics of high school friendships. Nikki and Danny felt the same about it, and were always zero drama – we spent lunch together every day as a group of outcasts-by-choice, sitting on a sloping patch of grass and watching most of the chaos unfold.

But after school, Nikki went to spend time with her grandmother, Danny went home to skateboard with the kids on his street, and I carried out my weekday routine that felt nearly ritualistic: swim practice, homework, eat, shower, bed. That we did nothing together outside of school made it hard to form very tight emotional bonds with them, but all three of us seemed oddly fine with it.

As spring of sophomore year wound down, I grew acutely aware of Elliot becoming… more. Not only intellectually, but physically, too. Seeing him only on weekends and during the summers made it feel like I was watching a time-lapse video of a tree growing, a flower blooming, a field sprouting across the year.

“Favorite word.” He shifted on the pile of pillows, eyes moving over me. They were doing their own catch-up, apparently.

It was May 14, and I hadn’t seen Elliot since my sixteenth birthday weekend in March – the longest we’d gone in nearly two years. He was… different. Bigger, somehow darker. He had new frames, thick black ones. His hair was too long, his shirt stretched tight across his chest. His jeans skimmed the tops of his black sneakers. New jeans, then, too.

“Tremble,” I said. “You?”

He swallowed and replied, “Acerbic.”

“Ooh, good one. Update?” I settled in, picking up a book of Dickinson Dad had left on my bed.

“I’m considering learning to skate.”

I glanced up at him, eyes wide. “Like ice skate?”

He glared at me. “No, Macy. Like skateboard.”

I laughed at the emphasis he put on the word, but stopped when I took in his expression. In a pulse I wondered whether he was learning because he knew it was something Danny did… “Sorry, it’s just… maybe just say skateboard.”

He nodded tightly. “Anyway. I saved up and am looking into boards.”

I bit back a smile. The boy was so hopeless. “There has to be a website that has lingo or something.”

He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, annoyed.

“Sorry. Go ahead.”

“Also,” he said, staring down at his shirt as if engrossed with the hem, “I’m taking some of my classes next semester at Santa Rosa.”

“What?” I gasped. “Santa Rosa as in college?”

He nodded.

“As a high school junior?” I knew Elliot was smart, but… he was still only a sophomore now, and already qualified for college courses?

“Yeah, I know. Biology and…” He blinked away, suddenly fascinated with something in the corner of the room.

“Biology and what, Elliot?”

“Some math.”

“‘Some math’?” I gaped at him. He’d finished advanced calc already? I mentally glared at my impending algebra course.

“So the skateboarding is maybe to help me bond with some of the students in my grade.”

The vulnerability in his voice made me feel like an enormous jerk. “But you’re with them every day at school. Right?”

He was quiet, watching me. “Yeah, after school. At lunch.”

“Wait. You’re not in classes with kids in your grade now?”

“Only homeroom.” He swallowed and attempted a smile. “I’ve been working on my own at school but I’ll start this semester at SRJC.”

I glanced down at the book in his hand. Franny and Zooey. It was dog-eared because we’d each read it several times.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were so special?”

He laughed quietly at my question and then it transitioned into a full-on laugh attack.

“Sorry,” he said, slowly catching his breath. “I don’t really think of it that way.”

I stared at him, trying to figure out why he thought it was so funny.

“It’s just been this semester,” he explained. “And, I don’t know.” He looked up and suddenly seemed years older. I had a preemptive pang for our lives in the future, wondering whether we’d be close like this forever. The possibility that we wouldn’t was revolting to me. “It didn’t seem like the right thing to include in an email because it seems sort of braggy.”

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.