Just as he pushes his thick hair out of his eyes in a gesture of disbelief I’ve seen him make a million times, I turn and press through the crowd and out onto the sidewalk. I’m jogging in the wrong direction before catching my mistake halfway down the block and whipping around. Two long strides back the other way, with my head down, heart hammering, and I slam right into a broad chest.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I blurt before I look up and realize what I’ve done.
Elliot’s hands come around my upper arms, holding me steady only a few inches away from him. I know he’s looking at my face, waiting for me to meet his gaze, but my eyes are stuck on the sight of his Adam’s apple, and my thoughts are stuck remembering how I used to stare at his neck, covertly, on and off for hours while we were reading together in the closet.
“Macy. Seriously?” he says quietly, meaning a thousand things.
Seriously, is it you?
Seriously, why did you just run off?
Seriously, where have you been for the past decade?
Part of me wishes I could be the kind of person to just push past and run away and pretend this never happened. I could get back on BART, hop on the Muni to the hospital, and delve into a busy workday managing emotions that, honestly, are much bigger and more deserving than these.
But another part of me has been expecting this exact moment for the past eleven years. Relief and anguish pulse heavily in my blood. I’ve wanted to see him every day. But also, I never wanted to see him again.
“Hi.” I finally look up at him. I’m trying to figure out what to say here; my head is full of senseless words. It’s a storm of black and white.
“Are you…?” he starts breathlessly. He still hasn’t let go of me. “Did you move back here?”
I watch as he takes in my scrubs, my ugly sneakers. “Physician?”
I am a robot.
His dark brows lift. “So what are you doing here today?”
God, what a weird place to begin. But when there’s a mountain ahead of you, I guess you start with a single step to the straightest point ahead. “I was meeting Sabrina for coffee.”
He scrunches his nose in a painfully familiar expression of incomprehension.
“My college roommate,” I clarify. “She lives in Berkeley.”
Elliot deflates a tiny bit, reminding me that he doesn’t know Sabrina. It used to bother us when we would have a month in between updates. Now there are years and entire lives unknown to each other.
“I called you,” he says. “Like a million times. And then that number changed.”
He runs his hand through his hair and shrugs helplessly. And I get it. This whole fucking moment is so surreal. Even now it’s incomprehensible that we let this distance happen. That I let this happen.
“I know. I, um, got a new phone,” I say lamely.
He laughs, but it isn’t a particularly happy sound. “Yeah, I figured.”
“Elliot,” I say, pushing past the clog in my throat at the feel of his name there, “I’m sorry. I really have to run. I need to be at work soon.”
He bends so that he’s level with my face. “Are you kidding?” His eyes go wide. “I can’t just run into you at Saul’s and be like, ‘Hey, Macy, what’s up,’ and then you go to work, and I go to work, and we don’t talk for another ten fucking years.”
And there it is. Elliot was never able to play the surface game.
“I’m not prepared for this,” I admit quietly.
“Do you have to prepare for me?”
“If there’s anyone I have to prepare for, it’s you.”
This hits him where I meant it to – straight in the bull’s-eye of some vulnerable nucleus – but as soon as he winces I regret it.
“Just give me a minute,” he urges, pulling me to the edge of the sidewalk so we aren’t obstructing the steady stream of commuters. “How are you? How long have you been back? How is Duncan?”
All around us, the world seems to go still.
“I’m good,” I say mechanically. “I moved back in May.” I am obliterated by his third question, and my answer comes out trembling: “And, um… Dad died.”
Elliot lurches slightly backward. “What?”
“Yeah,” I say, voice garbled. I am struck dumb by this, struggling to rewrite history, to rewire a thousand synapses in my brain.
Somehow, I’m managing to have this conversation without completely losing my shit, but if I stand here for two more minutes, all bets are off. With Elliot right here asking about Dad, and going on two hours of sleep and the prospect of an eighteen-hour day ahead of me… I need to get out of here before I melt down.
But when I look up at him, I see Elliot’s face is a mirror to what’s happening in my chest. He looks devastated. He’s the only one who would look that way after hearing that Dad died, because he’s the only one who would have understood what it did to me.
“Duncan died?” His voice comes out thick with emotion. “Macy, why didn’t you tell me?”
Holy shit, that is an enormous question.
“I…” I start, and shake my head. “We weren’t in touch when it happened.”
Nausea rolls up from my stomach to my throat. What a cop-out. What an unbelievable evasion.
He shakes his head. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Mace.”
I give myself three more seconds to look at him, and it’s like another punch to the gut. He’s my person. He’s always been my person. My best friend, my confidant, probably the love of my life. And I’ve spent the last eleven years being angry and self-righteous. But at the end of the day, he tore a hole in us, and fate ripped it wide open.
“I’m going to go,” I say in an abrupt burst of awkward. “Okay?”
Before he can answer, I split, booking it down the street toward the BART station. The entire time I’m speed walking, and for the full rumbling trip back under the bay, I feel like he’s right there, behind me or in a seat in the next car down.
friday, october 11
fifteen years ago
The entire Petropoulos family was in their front yard when we pulled up in a moving van two months later. The van was only half-full because Dad and I had both thought at the rental counter that we’d have more to bring with us. But in the end, we’d bought only enough furniture from the consignment store to have somewhere to sleep, eat, and read, and not much else.
Dad called it “furniture kindling.” I didn’t get it.
Maybe I would have if I’d let myself think about it for a few seconds, but the only thought I had during the entire ninety-minute drive was that we were going to a house that Mom had never seen. Yes, she wanted us to do this, but she hadn’t actually picked it out, she hadn’t seen it. There was something so horribly sour about that reality. Dad still drove his rumbling old green Volvo. We still lived in the same house on Rose Street. Every piece of furniture inside had been there when Mom was alive. I had new clothes, but I always felt a little like Mom picked them out through some divine intervention when we shopped, because Dad had a way of bringing me the biggest, baggiest things, and invariably some sympathetic saleswoman would swoop in with an armload of more suitable clothing and a reassurance that, yes, this is what all the girls are wearing now, and, no, don’t worry, Mr. Sorensen.
Climbing from the van, I straightened my shirt over the waistband of my shorts and stared up at the crew now assembling on our gravelly driveway. I spotted Elliot first – the familiar face in the crowd. But around him were three other boys, and two smiling parents.
The vision of the bursting-at-the-seams family there, waiting to help, only magnified the ache clawing its way up my throat from my chest.
The man – so clearly Elliot’s father, with the thick black hair and telltale nose – jogged forward, reaching to shake Dad’s hand. He was shorter than Dad by only a couple of inches, a rarity.
“Nick Petropoulos,” he said, turning to shake my hand next. “You must be Macy.”