Love and Other Words

Page 38

“In our underwear,” I say without thinking.

His first reaction to this is quiet shock, but it slowly melts into a smile that heats my blood, sets something simmering beneath my skin. “You said things are ‘complicated,’ huh?”

I’m saved from my crumbling resolve to keep quiet about Sean when there’s a knock on the door behind him. Elliot stares at me, some urgent light in his eyes, as if he knows I’m about to tell him something important.

I lift my chin to the door after we’ve stood there staring at each other for nearly ten silent seconds. “You should probably get that.”

With a small growl of defeat, he turns and opens the door to let the other two guests in.

Desmond enters first. He’s shorter than Elliot but thick with muscle, with smooth dark skin and a smile that seems permanently fixed in his eyes. He hands Elliot a bowl with a colorful salad inside and claps him on the back, thanking him for inviting him.

Rachel steps in next, but I’m distracted from her entrance by Desmond coming over to me, introducing himself in a thick Aussie accent. “I’m Des. Nice to meet you.”

“Macy,” I say, shaking his hand and adding awkwardly, “Yes, so glad we’re finally meeting.”

In truth, I have no idea how long Elliot’s known him. My mouth feels dry, hands clammy.

I look up and find Rachel staring at me. She blinks away, smiling tightly at Elliot as she waits for an introduction.

“Rachel,” Elliot says, guiding her forward. “This is Macy.”

She has short dark hair, bright blue eyes, and a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks. When she smiles this time, it looks at least partly genuine, and reveals a set of bright, even teeth. She’s completely lovely.

“Hi, Rachel.” I reach out and she returns the handshake, limply.

“It’s really nice to meet you,” she says, and smiles again.

The words are out before I realize what I’m doing: “Thanks for coming.”

As if I’ve been here a million times. As if I live here, as if I’m hosting.

She turns to Elliot, her eyes tight again. He ducks, giving her a little reassuring smile.

My chest twists in jealousy and possessiveness. I don’t like their silent exchange. I don’t like the feeling that they have a past, a rhythm, an unspoken language.

“Where should I put this?” she asks, lifting a canvas grocery bag with a few bottles of wine inside.

“Fridge,” Elliot says, squeezing her shoulder and giving her another lingering, encouraging look before releasing her and returning to my side.

Rachel disappears and Elliot glances at Des, who shakes his head a little when she’s gone.

“She’s all right, mate,” Des says quietly. “Onward.” And then he turns to me, unleashing the grin. “And you. Here you are. In the flesh.”

I deflect this possible conversation with a question: “How do you two know each other?”

“Rugby,” Des says.

My laugh comes out louder than I expect it to, and Des’s eyes widen with thrill. “I don’t know you, Macy, but I think we’re going to be best friends.”

“Hey!” Elliot protests, laughing.

Returning his attention to me, Des adds, “Actually, he’s really quite good.”

“No way,” I say, biting back a grin as I look up at Elliot in all his bookish glory. “This guy? Rugby?”

“Come on,” Elliot says, giving me a playfully wounded look.

“I just remember watching you learn to skate,” I say.

Desmond’s eyes narrow. “Ice skate?”

A loud cackle bursts from me, and Elliot pulls me into a gentle headlock, growling, “Skateboard, you menace,” into my hair.

We wrestle for a second and then stop in unison, looking up at the sound of still silence. Rachel is standing just inside the door from the kitchen, holding an open bottle of wine. Des’s eyes flicker between her and Elliot.

“Does anyone want some wine?” she asks. “Or… just me?”

Des lets out a delighted laugh at this, thinking she’s being funny, but Rachel remains unsmiling, tilting the bottle to her lips and taking a few deep swallows. She pulls the bottle up, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

Elliot slowly releases me from the headlock, straightening his shirt while I smooth down my hair. I feel like we’ve just been busted for some mildly criminal behavior. Here we are, standing in his spartan living room with this stark truth laid out before us: We’ve never dealt with fallout before. The messiest parts of our lives have always been compartmentalized to the school week, or kept private for a decade. I have no idea how he’ll react.

“Rach,” he says quietly. “Come on.”

It’s a gentle chastisement I can’t imagine him ever delivering to me, but still, there’s a seduction there, a reassurance that feels a little slippery, too intimate.

“Come on what?” she says.

“I thought you wanted to do this,” he says.

“Turns out, it’s not as easy as I expected.”

Why on earth would she think this would be easy?

“I don’t need to stay,” I start to say, but both Des and Elliot quickly jump in.

“No, no, no,” Elliot says, turning to me.

“Don’t be silly,” Des says. “It’s fine.”

I look at Rachel, who is looking at me with such a flat fury, I know exactly what she’s thinking: I’m not fine at all.

“You did such a number on him,” she says quietly.

“Rachel,” Elliot says, voice low in warning, “don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Her eyes turn to his face. “Have you guys talked yet? Does she have any idea?”

Des seems to find a reason he needs to jog to the bathroom at this precise moment, and I’m immediately jealous that he can just split and I have to stand here while the awkward shrapnel rains down on us.

But at the same time, I want to know what she thinks I need to hear.

“Any idea about what?” I ask him.

Elliot shakes his head. “We aren’t doing this now.”

She answers, leaning against the doorway to the kitchen: “How much you fucked him up. How no one —”

“Rachel.” Elliot’s voice is a blade, cutting through the room. I’ve never, ever heard him use that tone before, and it sends goose bumps down my arms.

I continue to look at him, and it takes monumental effort to not fall apart thinking about what I’m missing here. I know what my life looked like after we split, but I couldn’t bear to think about his, too.

“I’m pretty sure we fucked each other up,” I say. “I think that’s what we’re trying to fix, isn’t it?” I look back to Rachel. “None of this is your business, though.”

“It was my business for five years,” she says. Five years. That’s how long I had, too. “And it was really my business for at least one.”

What the fuck does that mean?

Elliot reaches up, scrubbing his face. “Do we have to do this?”

“No.” Rachel looks at him, and then at me, and then moves across the room to pick up her purse, and walks out the door.


friday, august 25

eleven years ago


ummer vacation ended on a scorching day in August. Dad, Elliot, and I packed up the car, and then Elliot shuffled conspicuously to the side, waiting for our customary goodbyes.

This was the fourth time we’d done this – the parting of ways after a summer of long afternoons together – but it was by far the hardest. Everything had changed.

As it had always been with us – two steps forward, two steps back – we hadn’t kissed again, and we certainly hadn’t spent any more time grinding on the floor. But there was a new tenderness there. His hand would find mine while we read. I would doze off on his shoulder and wake with his fingers tangled in my hair and his body loose with sleep beside me, my leg thrown over his hip. It felt, finally, like we were together.

Dad seemed to sense it, too, and after closing the hatch to his new Audi wagon with a firm click, he smiled tightly at us and walked back into the house.

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