Love and Other Words

Page 24

“Don’t start.”

“When have I ever talked you out of a relationship?” she say, eyes wide. “Doesn’t that carry some weight?”

I open my mouth to answer when out of the corner of my eye I realize that Elliot is only a few paces behind us, and has probably heard every word.

I give him a knowing look. “Hey.”

He’s been studying something on his phone, but it’s all a ruse. Elliot is about as interested in dicking around on an iPhone as he is in sticking a spoon in his ear. He catches up with two long steps and comes between us, putting an arm around our shoulders. “Ladies.”

“You heard every word of that, didn’t you?” I ask.

He slants his eyes to me, shrugging. “Yes.”


This makes him laugh. “I was coming up to thank you for inviting me. It wasn’t like I was hoping to catch you discussing Sean.” In a quieter voice, laden with meaning, he mumbles, “Trust me.”

“The honesty here is a little disarming,” Sabrina interjects. “I’m not sure if I should make an awkward getaway or stay and hear more.” She pauses. “I really want to hear more.”

“It’s always been that way with us,” I tell her.

“It’s true,” Elliot says. “We’ve never been very good at lying to each other. When I was fifteen, Macy told me to change my deodorant. She hinted that the old one might not be working anymore.”

“Elliot pointed out the specific day he noticed I was getting boobs.”

Sabrina stares at us.

“I made Elliot bring Imodium with us when we went to see the Backstreet Boys, because I was having tummy troubles.”

“The embarrassing part of that,” he says, “is that I went to see Backstreet Boys.”

“No,” I correct him, “the embarrassing part was that I caught you dancing.”

He acknowledges this with a little flicker of his eyebrows. “I had moves.”

I laugh. “Yes. Movement is the only way to describe what you were doing.”

Sabrina snorts at us and, when Dave calls to her, jogs ahead, but Elliot stops me with a hand on my arm, and we get a few curious glances as the rest of the group passes us on their way to the parking lot. Luckily, Sean and Phoebe are still ahead of us.

“Hey. So.” Elliot tucks his hands into his pockets. His shoulders rise, pressing into his neck. He is still so angular, so long.

“Hey. So,” I repeat.

“Thanks for inviting me today.” He gives me this smile that I don’t know I can describe. It’s the smile that says, I know we’ve known each other forever, but it still means the world to me that you included me here. How he does that with a simple curve of his lips and some eye contact, I’ll never know.

“Well,” I tell him, “you should probably know that I hosted this entire thing so that I could invite you to meet my friends.” Only when I say it out loud do I realize it’s true. This is what Elliot does to me: he pulls honesty from those scrambled parts of my brain.

His eyes narrow, irises blooming as his pupils become pinpoints in the dim light beneath the clouds. “Is that true?”

“Why did you pull me back?” I ask him instead. I don’t even know what I want him to say here. How will I feel if he says that he’s come to his senses and realizes that I’m right, that we can only be friends? A treasonous part of me hopes I don’t find out.

“I wanted to ask you something.”

My chest is a jungle; my heart is the drum. Am I thrilled or terrified?

“Just wondering when we could get together next,” he says.

“Oh.” I blink over his shoulder to the towering eucalyptus trees swaying in the darkening sky. “I think I have some time off around Thanksgiving.”

He nods, and my heart droops a little. Why did I say that? Thanksgiving feels really far away.

Clearing his throat, he says, “Andreas is getting married in December —”

“December?” It seems an odd month for a wedding. Also, much farther away than Thanksgiving, if that’s when he’s thinking we’ll hang out next.

“New Year’s Eve, actually,” he clarifies, “and I was wondering if you wanted to come with me.”

New Year’s.

New Year’s.

He’s really asking me that.

And from the look in his eyes, I know that he’s aware of the weight of that date.

But instead of addressing that beast, I ask, “You don’t want to hang out until December?”

I watch the thrill of this pass through his hazel eyes. “Of course I do.” He laughs. “I’m free pretty much anytime you want to hang out. But since it’s a holiday I wanted to ask ahead of time if you’d come.”

“I can’t come as your date.”

Elliot shakes his head. “I’m not asking you on a date, Macy, while your fiancé and future stepdaughter are climbing into the car right there.”

“So, just…” I flail, searching for words, “to come with you?”

“Yeah,” he says, “to come with me. To Healdsburg.” Then he adds, “For the weekend.”

His shoulders drop back down as if it’s so simple.

Come along.

We’ll carpool.

It’ll be fun.

But the words settle between us, and I hear them in a different tone the longer I fail to reply.

Come away with me for the weekend.

Forty-eight hours with Elliot.

What will things be like between us in two and a half months, when they’re already so muddled now?

I blink over his shoulder to where Sean is buckling Phoebe into the Prius.

“Everyone would love to see you, and I’m the best man so it’d be nice to have a friend there with me,” he says, struggling to pull the conversation back from the brink of death. “Mom and Dad asked about you… they’re going insane knowing we’re back in touch.”

“I need to ask Sean what the plans are,” I say lamely. “He might have some art showing or event already in the books.”

Elliot nods. “Of course.”

“Can I let you know?”

“Of course,” he says with a small smile, a rumble of thunder bringing his attention to the sky. When he looks back down at me, I feel about as stable as the billowing rain clouds overhead. For a brief moment I imagine hugging him. I would wrap my arms around his neck and press my face there, breathing him in. He would bend closer, letting out that tiny little grunt of relief he always made. I want it so intensely it makes my mouth water, and I have to force myself to take a step back.

“I better…” I say, motioning over my shoulder.

“I know,” he says, watching me, expression tight.

Another rip of thunder.

“Have a good night, Elliot.”

And I finally turn to go.


saturday, july 9

twelve years ago


e were lying on the flat roof over his garage, basking in the sun. It was a summer break routine we’d had for nearly two weeks now: meet on the roof at ten, lunch around noon, swimming in the river, home to our families for the rest of the evening.

For as much as he enjoyed my company, Dad liked the quiet of solitude. Or maybe a teenage daughter was exhaustingly alien to him. Either way, he seemed content to let me stay out doing whatever I wanted with the Petropoulos kids until the bugs grew louder and the sky grew dark.

Andreas was on one side of me, Elliot on the other. One brother playing something on his PSP, the other reading Proust.

“You two cannot possibly be related,” I mumbled, turning the page of my book.

“He’s a loser.” Andreas laughed. “No game to speak of.”

“He’s a meathead,” Elliot said, and then grinned at me. “Ruled by his —”

A horn honked below in the driveway and we all sat up to see a rusty Pontiac come to a crunching stop on the gravel.

“Oh,” Elliot said, glancing at me and then jumping up. “Shit. Shit.” He spun in a half circle, fisting the front of his hair and looking like he was panicking, then climbed into the window to the family room. A minute later he appeared in the front yard. A girl climbed out of the car and handed Elliot a stack of papers.

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