Bare feet. Elliot’s apartment. Inside there somewhere is Elliot’s bed.
If I’m not careful, I won’t even go home tonight.
Holy shit, I’m a mess.
“Macy,” he says, pulling me into a hug and drawing me inside with one arm around my shoulders. When he moves away, shutting the door behind me, the smile I see on his face could power a small city. “You’re here. You’re in my apartment!”
Bending, he kisses my cheek, chastely. “Your face is so cold!”
“I walked from BART. It’s chilly outside.” Heat radiates from the point where his lips pressed against my skin, and I put down the pie I brought so I can shrug out of my jacket.
He pulls back a little, surprised. “You didn’t drive?”
“I’m not a fan of cars,” I say, smiling.
He takes my coat, quiet at this. “I could have picked you up.”
Pressing a palm to his chest, I whisper, “You live six blocks from the station. I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry, I’m nervous.” He shakes his shoulders a little, as if loosening up. “I’m going to try to be cool about this – about tonight. I will probably fail.”
I laugh, handing him the pecan pie I bought this morning. “It’s not your mom’s recipe, sadly. Are they coming down?”
He shakes his head and then tilts it, beckoning me deeper inside. I follow him through a tiny living room into an even tinier kitchen. “They’re going over to Andreas’s future in-laws’ place up in Mendocino. We didn’t want the entire Petropoulos clan to descend on them; his fiancée, Else, is an only child and I don’t think they’d know what to do with all of us. It’s just Mom, Dad, Andreas, and Alex headed up there.”
“Who’s coming today?” I ask, watching him slide the pie onto the counter. He’s managed to set up everything he needs in the small space, and it’s meticulous despite the size.
Elliot turns, leaning back against the counter, gripping it gently. The shirt stretches across his chest, spreading open at the collar, revealing the edge of his collarbone, the hint of chest hair. My heart punches me from the inside.
“My friend Desmond,” he says, and reaches one hand to scratch his chin. “And Rachel.”
I freeze, staring wide-eyed at him. Instinctively I look down to what I’m wearing and then back up at him.
“Rachel is coming?”
He nods, watching me carefully. “Will that make you uncomfortable?”
I’m trying not to react too much outwardly, but I feel my brows pulling down, setting a frown on my forehead. “I don’t think so?”
“That sounds an awful lot like a question,” he says quietly. Pushing off the counter, he takes two steps over to me. “I should have mentioned that. She doesn’t have local family. Or… very many local friends.”
I look around the room we’re standing in. “Did she live here with you?”
“No,” he says. “But she stayed here a fair amount.”
Oh. I look at the stove and see images of this unknown Rachel standing there, scrambling eggs in her underwear while Elliot showered. I picture him pouring coffee for her after, kissing her bare, pale shoulder. I wonder if this burning jealousy is how he felt seeing me with Sean and knowing I slept in the same bed as he did, let him touch me in ways Elliot had only started to.
Looking up at him, I say, “I’m trying not to have a fit about your ex-girlfriend coming over today.”
Elliot lifts one shoulder. “I understand. I might not have planned this so well.”
“It wasn’t intentional to have us both here to make me feel… jealous? Not even a little?”
“I swear it wasn’t.”
One look at his face, and I believe him. Elliot has occasionally been oblivious about how other girls in his life affected me, but he’s not cruel. Nodding, I look down at the floor. “Does she know who I am?”
Another thought occurs to me. “Does she know I’ll be here?”
He hesitates, and guilt spreads in a flush up his neck. “Yes.”
“So she knew, but I didn’t? Elliot, seriously?”
He lifts a hand, scratching the top of his head. “I wanted you to come.” His eyes go warm and soft, the way they do when he feels urgent about something. “I really, really wanted you to come. And I didn’t want her to be alone today. But I worried if I told you that you’d back out.”
I probably would have. Nothing sounds more awkward than a holiday meal with Elliot’s ex-girlfriend.
“Does she think we’re… back together?”
“I don’t know what she thinks,” he says. “But it’s sort of moot, isn’t it?” He watches me carefully. “You’re engaged.”
Guilt slices sharply through me, sending a jolt of pain to my ribs. I’m not ready to tell Elliot that I’m single, but I’m not okay letting him think I’m being chronically emotionally unfaithful, either. “Things there are… complicated.”
He seems to marinate in these words for a few beats before reaching for my hand, tugging it. “Come on. Let me give you the tour.”
The living room is longer than it is wide, and at the narrow end is a tall leaded-glass window looking out onto a surprisingly beautiful backyard. There are fig trees, plum trees, and a tiny, lush lawn – a rarity in the Bay Area.
“The lawn is fake,” he explains. “The owner is insistent that we keep this outdoor space.”
I look around the living room, at the bookcases that span from the floor to the ceiling, with a sliding ladder connected to the upper lip. His couch is a vibrant blue, and clean, with bright multicolored throw pillows. On the other end of the room, closer to the front door, he has placed a folding card table and set it with a linen tablecloth, placemats, and a tiny centerpiece of gourds and cranberries. I must have walked right past it when I came in, so excited and nervous I didn’t even notice.
“Your place is so nice,” I whisper, tucking my hair behind my ear. Elliot watches it slide forward again anyway, and swallows. He probably knows I wore it down for him. “Tell me about your novel.”
“High fantasy,” he says, looking around at his bookshelves. Then he looks back at me and his eyes shine with restrained amusement. “There are dragons.”
“So you’re writing porn?” I joke, and he bursts out laughing.
“That’s really all you’ll give me?”
Smiling, he takes my hand again. “Let’s finish the tour.”
Through a door on the other side of the living room from the kitchen is a tiny hallway. To the left is his bedroom. To the right is his bathroom.
The bathroom has a small tub and no shower, just a smooth hose attached to the faucet and hanging limply downward, a neck bent in defeat.
“You don’t have a shower,” I say, walking back out and feeling the sudden intimacy of being in his space. It’s all so quintessentially him: sparse furniture other than floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books.
Elliot watches me as I lean against the hallway wall. The space is tiny, and he seems to fill it with his height and the solid width of his chest.
“I don’t know if I could handle only having a bathtub,” I babble.
“I call it a shath,” he says.
“That sounds dirty.”
I’m staring at his chest but hear the smile in his voice: “I think that’s why I call it that.”
He takes another step closer. “It still feels surreal to have my own place. Like it’s some small miracle that I live here alone. It’s so different from how I grew up.”
“Do you like living alone?” I ask.
He hesitates for the duration of three pounding heartbeats in my ear. “How honest do you want me to be here?”
I look up at him. Oh. I think what’s coming will probably wreck me, but I ask for it anyway: “I always want you to be honest.”
“Okay,” he says. “In that case, I like living alone, but would rather live with you. I like sleeping alone, but would rather have you in my bed.” He reaches up, running a finger over his lip, thinking about his next words, and his voice comes out lower, and quieter. “I like having friends over for Thanksgiving, but would rather it just be the two of us, doing our first Thanksgiving as a couple, eating turkey off the bone, cuddling on the floor together.”