Love and Other Words

Page 23

“Well, I’m super proud of you.”

He bit his lip through a smile. “Super?”

“Yeah. Super.” I lifted my head, shifting my pillow. “What else is new?”

“There’s a new ‘skate park’” – he made quotation marks with his fingers and a teasing little grin – “just past the Safeway, though I’ve been learning in the beat-up parking lot behind the laundromat. And, let’s see… Brandon and Christian are going hiking in Yellowstone for a month this summer with Brandon’s dad.”

His two closest guy friends. “You’re not going?”

He shook his head. “Nah. Christian is already talking about how much booze he’s going to hide in his suitcase, and it sounds like a mess.”

I didn’t press. I couldn’t really see Elliot hiking in Yellowstone anyway.

“Go on.”

“Went to a prom,” he mumbled.

The sound of tires screeching to a halt echoed through my head. Taking classes at a junior college seemed tiny compared to the magnitude of this omission.

“A prom? But you’re a sophomore.”

“I went with a junior.”

“Was he cute?” I swallowed my more honest, bitter reaction.

“Ha ha. She is fine looking. Her name is Emma.”

I made a face. He ignored it. “‘Fine looking,’” I repeated. “What a roaring compliment.”

“It was pretty boring. Dancing. Punch. Awkward silences.”

I grinned. “Bummer.”

He shrugged but grinned back. Not a half-hearted half smile – a full, eager one. But it slowly straightened as my expression darkened. I remembered the name Emma, and the cute, rosy-cheeked preteen in the photo on his bulletin board.

“You mean the same Emma from that picture?”

He gave a deliberately casual shrug. “Yeah. We’ve known each other forever.”

Forever. My stomach twisted. “Did you get lucky?” I asked, keeping my tone light.

His eyes narrowed and he shook his head. “No… I’m not sure I like her like that.”

Not sure?

“Does it matter for guys?”

He continued to stare at me, confused.

“Did you kiss her?”

His cheeks pinked, and I had my answer.

Elliot had kissed someone.

Maybe he had kissed a lot of someones.

I mean, of course he had. Not everyone was as picky and socially stunted at the romance game as I was. Elliot was turning seventeen in a matter of months. It seemed almost laughable that I imagined he was innocent in the way I was. I was sure he’d done a lot more than kissing. My blood seemed to sour inside my chest, and I let out a little growl at my lap.

“Why are you so mad all of a sudden?” he asked quietly.

I kept my head down. “I don’t know.”

After all, Elliot was just my friend.

My Everyfriend.

“What’s your update?” he asked.

I looked back up, eyes flashing. “I had my first orgasm.”

His brows lifted, his face grew red, and his mouth formed about a hundred different shapes before he spoke. “What?”

“Or. Gaz. Um.”

“You’re… sixteen.” He seemed to realize at the same time I did that this wasn’t actually all that scandalous an age.

“You mean it’s shameful to be so old?”

He let out a nervous laugh.

“Besides,” I said, looking up at him, “you’ve had one. Probably lots and lots, thinking about dragons.”

His neck flushed bright red and he sat up, sliding his hands between his knees. “But… only by myself.”

His words sent a cold flush of relief through me, but my temper was already off and running. “Well, what did you think I meant?”

His eyes suddenly fixated on my hands. “Oh. So no one…”

“Touched me?” I lifted my chin, struggling to not look away. “No.”

“Oh.” He swallowed audibly. All around us, the blue walls seemed to close in.

“Is that a weird update?” I asked.

He shifted where he sat. “Sort of.”

I felt mortified. The blush I’d been fighting seemed to explode beneath my skin, and I wanted to roll over, press my face back into my pillow. I’d been jealous, trying to get a rise out of him, and had basically just thrown his own honesty back in his face. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s…” Elliot scratched his eyebrow, pushed his glasses up his nose, rallying. “It’s good you told me.”

“You said you did it, too.”

He cleared his throat, nodded sternly. “It’s normal for guys my age.”

“So it’s not normal for girls?”

With a cough, he managed, “Of course it is. I just meant —”

“I’m joking.” I closed my eyes for a breath, working to get my own craziness back under control. What was with me?

“What did you think about?” The last word of his came out sticky, caught in a slightly strangled voice.

I stared at him. “I thought, ‘Holy hell, this is amazing.’”

He laughed, but it was awkward and high-pitched. “No. Before. During.”

I shrugged. “Being touched by someone else like that. Do you still think about dragons?”

His eyes flickered over every part of me all at once. “No,” he said, not laughing at my joke even a little. “I think about… wrists and ears, and skin and legs. Girl parts. Girls.” His words all ran together and it took me a beat to separate them.

Girls? My blood heated with jealousy.

“Any girls in particular?”

He opened a book, thumbed a page. He held still like he did when he omitted information. “Sometimes.”

That was the end of the conversation. He didn’t ask me anything else and didn’t offer more.


saturday, october 14


’m conscious that Elliot and I are in a bit of a social fishbowl, with Sabrina and Nikki clearly tracking how much time we spend orbiting each other. So, despite feeling constantly aware of him, I don’t really speak to Elliot much at the picnic and it makes me crazy, wondering what he’s thinking about all of this. He spends most of his time talking to Danny, while Nikki, Sabrina, Dave, and I catch up. I get the distinct impression that once Sabrina and Dave get time alone in the car on the way back they’re going to explode in exasperated agreement that Sean is Really The Most Boring.

Based on my own observations, though, I can’t really blame them. Sean is tuned in to Phoebe, but is otherwise fucking around on his phone, or jumping into conversations only to add his thoughts before ducking back out again. I have this weird, bubbling awareness that I’ve never been in this situation with him before – sitting with a group of my friends, rather than a group of art enthusiasts or benefactors dying to get Sean Chen’s attention. And apparently, unless he’s being courted, he retreats, socially. I have a niggling fear that he’s always been this way, it’s just never come up, because we’ve never hung out with friends.

Does Sean even have friends?

Around four, the clouds roll in and it looks like it might rain. Because California is turning into a dustbowl, we clean up happily, as if we are a bunch of busybody relatives getting out of the way for some newlyweds staying over.

Sean carries Phoebe on his shoulders toward the parking lot, and I follow just behind, with Sabrina, pushing Viv in the stroller.

“You have to admit that’s pretty cute,” I tell her, lifting my chin to the duo in front of us. The stab of protectiveness I felt for him earlier has morphed into a strange sense of desperation. Sean and I are a great fit; we were before Elliot, and we are now. I’m hunting for evidence. My fondness for the sight of him and Phoebe is proof.

My appreciation of his ass in those jeans is proof.

She laughs. “He seems like a really great dad.”

Sigh. “Message received.”

Keeping her voice down so others can’t hear us, Sabrina says, “We need to have a serious conversation about this. An intervention.”

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