“Stay my friend?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he whispers, pressing his face into my neck. “Yeah, I need that, too.”
I move out a few days later. It really just entails me packing up the two suitcases I brought here a few months ago and moving about six blocks away. For less than seven hundred a month, I’m renting the spare bedroom at Nancy Eaton’s place – she’s a physician on the unit, and her daughter just left for college back east. It’s a temporary situation; not because Nancy hasn’t offered the room indefinitely, but because it feels that way. I own a house in Berkeley and could easily sell it and buy a place in the city, but even the thought feels like a betrayal. I could rent out the house and afford to rent my own place in the city, but that would require me going through all of my parents’ things, and I’m not ready for that, either.
“You’re a mess,” Elliot says on the other end of the line, after I’ve skimmed through the details of what to do with the Berkeley house.
He has no idea: I haven’t even told him I ended things with Sean. If Elliot knew that Sean and I broke up, he would come to the city immediately and stare me down until I relented, stretching to kiss him. Sean is the only barrier. He’s the buffer, giving me time to think. I don’t want Elliot to swoon me into falling in love with him again, or to press me to make a decision. I need time.
I hear something crash in the background and he mumbles a frustrated “Shit.”
“What was that?” I ask.
“I just knocked over a pot in the sink. I should do dishes.”
“How’s Sean?” he asks.
The subject change is so abrupt, it catches me off guard. “Good,” I say, adding without thought, “I think.”
I feel the way Elliot goes still on the other end. “You think?”
“Yeah,” I deflect. “I’ve been busy.”
“Are you being evasive with me?”
“No,” I say, wincing as I search for the best half-truth. I look around my new bedroom, like the right answer will materialize on the wall somewhere. “I just haven’t seen him much the past few days.”
“What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving?” he asks. “This will be your first one together, right?”
“I think I work.”
“You think?” he asks again, and it sounds like he’s eating. “Aren’t residents’ schedules mapped out years in advance?”
“Yeah,” I say, pinching the bridge of my nose. I hate lying to him. “I was going to trade so I didn’t have to work Christmas, but I haven’t gotten organized about it. I’ll probably be off.”
Elliot pauses – probably because he knows I’m lying and he’s trying to figure out why. “Okay, so, you have plans or not?”
“Sean and Phoebe are going to his parents’ place.” I hesitate, holding my breath. “I’m not.”
I expect him to poke at this, to make some sort of What does that mean? investigation, but he doesn’t.
He just clears his throat, and says, “Okay, so you’re coming here. I’d better do these dishes before then.”
wednesday, july 12
eleven years ago
he Healdsburg summer had turned from the warm humid hum of bees, berries, and sunshine to the brittle creaking of drying up creeks and unremitting heat. As we passed through the days, it seemed like we started to move more slowly, too. Nowhere was cool enough, except for the river or the closet. But even our blue, starred sanctuary had started to feel claustrophobic. Elliot was so tall; he seemed to take up the entire length of it. And at nearly eighteen, he was vibrating with sexual intensity – I felt entirely too full of nervous energy trying not to touch him. We would spend the mornings roaming the woods near the houses, and the afternoons walking down the road or biking into town for ice cream… but we always ended up back in the closet anyway, lying on the floor, staring up at the painted stars.
“School’s starting soon,” I said, glancing over at him. “You excited?”
Elliot shrugged. “Sure.”
“You like your classes at Santa Rosa?”
He looked up at me, brows furrowed. “Why are you asking about this now?”
I’d just been thinking about it. About school starting in the fall, and getting closer to finishing high school. About what he and I would do when we were done, and if we’d end up living closer to each other.
Living with each other.
“Just thinking about it, that’s all,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess I’m excited to be that much closer to finishing,” he said. “And the classes at SRJC are fine. I wish I’d decided to come down to Cal for a few days a week instead.”
“You had that option?” I asked, shocked.
He shrugged. An obvious yes.
“Are you going to your fall formal with Emma?” I asked, returning to doodling in my notebook.
“Macy. What?” He looked bewildered and then laughed sharply. “No.”
“Do you want to go with me?” he asked.
“You want me to go to a school dance with you?”
“No? Yes? After all our talk of the right way to blend our weekend lives with our weekday lives, I’m not sure what the right answer is,” he said, wincing. “But if you don’t go with me, I probably won’t go.”
“Really?” I asked, heart pounding. “Because I don’t want to go and get the death glare from all the skanks who love you, but I don’t want you to go and get ogled without me to glare at them, either.”
He shook his head, laughing. “It’s not like that.”
“So Emma doesn’t email you all the time anymore?”
“She doesn’t.” He held my gaze, steadily. “I’m not into her, she figured it out.”
I gave him a coy flutter of my lashes. “It’s not that I’m jealous.”
“Of course not.”
Just then his phone buzzed and he looked at it, read a text, and then shoved it back in his pocket. He looked very guilty.
“That was from Emma,” I guessed.
“Yes.” He picked at nonexistent lint on his pants. “It’s like the universe wants me to look like a liar right now.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing interesting.” He laughed at my skeptical expression. “I swear she never texts me.”
“If it’s not interesting, why won’t you tell me?”
He eyed me. “She just asked to hang out.”
“Well, then hand me your phone. I’ll tell her you’re busy.”
He smirked. “Will you include the part where you’re acting insanely jealous?”
I rolled onto my back and closed my eyes. “Whatever.”
“Or we could take some pictures of your boobs and ‘accidentally’ text them to her.”
“Jesus Christ. Give me the phone.”
I reached for it but his long monkey arm kept it easily away from me and I ended up falling on top of him instead, my boobs completely in his face. He made a muffled happy sound and laughed out a string of unintelligible words, totally pushing his face into my chest.
I screamed, scrambling back and pushing at his chest to get away. “Pervert!”
Elliot grabbed my waist and flipped me over as he sat up, pulling me backward into his lap and tickling me with his crazy long fingers, digging into my ribs.
I gasped and cackled, squirmed as he tickled, and laughed and held his arm around my waist until he rolled over onto me.
He pinned me gently; his hips fit perfectly between my legs.
We both froze, out of breath, staring at each other.
I was seventeen, but I’d never felt something like this before. He was hard, pressing right up against me.
The mood was suddenly completely different from the wrestle-ticklefest of one minute before.
Elliot glanced down at my mouth, and then back up to my face. I wanted to say something, to joke about the wood in his pants, anything. But my throat felt tight, my face burning.