Love and Other Words

Page 42


saturday, september 9

eleven years ago


he first trip after the summer – after our declaration that we were together, after that sweet, aching kiss – was in mid-September. The air was thick with the relentless heat of Indian summer, and I used it as an excuse to spend the entire weekend in my bikini.

Elliot… noticed.

Unfortunately, Dad noticed, too, and outright required us to spend our time reading downstairs or outside, and not in the closet.

That Saturday, we spread a blanket out on Elliot’s scraggly front lawn, beneath the enormous black oak, and gave our updates on friends, and school, and favorite words, but it had a different weight to it. We whispered it now, lying face-to-face on our sides, with Elliot’s fingers playing with the ends of my hair or brushing against my neck, his gaze dancing across the swell of my breasts.

According to rule number twenty-nine – When Macy is over sixteen and has her first serious boyfriend, make sure she is being safe – Dad put me on the pill almost immediately after that visit. I was still several months away from turning eighteen, and Dad told me he planned to call my “female doctor,” but only after giving me a stilted, awkward lecture that it wasn’t permission to have sex with Elliot, per se, but that he was trying to protect our futures.

Not that he had to worry. Despite seeing each other every weekend throughout October, Elliot and I never came that close to sex. Not since that day on the floor of the closet, his body over mine, working on instinct. And Elliot was the one taking things slow, not me. He kept telling me it was because every tiny step was a first, everything we did together we would only do for the first time, with this one person, our whole lives.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that we’d be together forever. We hadn’t said love yet. We hadn’t made promises. But it was as impossible to imagine falling out of love with Elliot as it was to imagine holding my breath for an hour.

So, we were winding our way carefully through exploration. Kissing for hours. Swimming together in the river: my legs slippery and cold around his waist, my stomach covered in goose bumps, sensitive to the feel of his bare torso pressed against me.

Weekdays back at school became infused with this desperate anticipation. We agreed to Skype once a week – Wednesdays – which made it painful to sit through classes that day. Those nights, he would look at me through his camera, eyes wide. I’d think about kissing him. I’d even tell him what I was thinking, and he’d groan and change the subject. Afterward, I’d climb into bed and imagine my fingers were his, knowing he was doing the same.

And weekends, whenever we had the smallest window, were a blur of kisses on the floor, our mouths moving together until our lips felt raw, our breaths shallow from the exertion of wanting.

But that was it. We kissed. Clothes stayed on, hands stayed put.

Until they didn’t.

Late October. It was pouring rain and miserable outside. Dad took the car into town to get groceries, leaving me and Elliot alone in the house. It wasn’t premeditated. He didn’t even spare a glance back at us, reading in the living room by the wood-burning stove. He simply called out that we were out of milk, and he was getting stuff for dinner.

The door closed with a quiet click.

The car tires crunched on the gravel until the sound disappeared.

I looked up at Elliot across the room, and my skin flushed hot.

He was already crawling across the floor to me, and then he was hovering over me in the shadows of the flickering fire.

I still remember the way he lifted my shirt, kissing a path from my belly button to my collarbone. I remember how – for the first time ever – he figured out the clasp of my bra, laughing into my mouth as his fingers fought with the elastic. I remember the reverence of his palm as it slid from the open fastening, around my ribs, beneath the underwire. His hand came over my bare breast, his thumb and finger closing over the peak. It seemed like light flowed out of me from every pore; the pleasure and need were nearly blinding. He followed with his tongue, wet, his lips closing over me, sucking, and I pulled his thigh between my legs, insane for the relief, rocking against him until I melted, coming in front of him for the first time.

He stared down at me, pupils huge and black, mouth slack.

“Did you…?”

I nodded, smiling, drugged.

The car tires crunched back up the gravel driveway, and Elliot let out a sharp, frustrated laugh, pulling away.

“I should go home anyway.” He nodded down.

I looked down, too, at the heel of his hand pressed to the front of his jeans, seeking relief.

He started to stand, but stopped, still kneeling between my legs but now staring down at my bare chest. It was the first time he’d really looked, and the intensity of his gaze was like a match to the fuel in my veins. I reached for his free hand.

The car door slammed shut.

“Macy,” Elliot warned, but his eyes remained unblinking and his arm moved without resistance when I pulled his hand down to my skin.

“He still has to get the groceries.” I put his fingers on my stomach, ran them up my body.

The trunk slammed, too. Elliot jerked his arm away.

Slowly, I sat up, fastening my bra and pulling my shirt down.

Dad’s keys fit into the lock, and he let himself in, glancing at us in the living room. I was exactly where he’d left me. Elliot hovered near the other end of the sofa, hands deep in his pockets.

“Hey, Dad,” I said.

He stopped, arms loaded with groceries. “Everything okay?”

Elliot nodded. “I was just waiting until you got back to head home.”

I looked up at him, grinning. “That was sweet.”

“Thanks, Elliot,” Dad said, smiling at him. “You’re welcome to join us for dinner.”

Dad walked into the kitchen, and I looked down at Elliot’s button fly with a nearly obsessive need to feel him beneath the denim.

He bent low, so that I had to look at his face. “I see where you’re looking,” he whispered. “You’re trouble.”

I stretched, kissing him. “Soon,” I said quietly in return.


sunday, december 31


here are more than eight acres of grounds at Madrona Manor, and I swear we walked every single one of them. Two hours we spent strolling, catching up, talking idly about tiny things: our favorite delis, late-blooming obsessions with Castelvetrano olives, books we’ve loved and hated, political fears and hopes, dream vacation destinations.

And still, the last New Year’s we knew each other feels like a chunk of radioactive meteor held in a jar in the palm of my hand. I feel it every second. I’m doing everything to avoid opening it until later.

The afternoon sun dips behind the trees and a chill descends. Car tires crunch on the gravelly driveway in the distance, luring us back to the great lawn, which is decorated with flowered garlands and dotted with heat lamps, cocktail tables, and waitstaff circulating hors d’oeuvres before the ceremony.

“I need to head upstairs to get ready. You okay?”

I nod, and Elliot bends as he cups my face, kissing my forehead and then my cheek seemingly out of instinct. He doesn’t register what he’s done as he pulls away, smiling down at me. Not once on his journey to the house to meet up with the groomsmen does he turn back, eyes wide in realization that he’s just kissed me the way he did so many times when he was mine.

Once he’s gone, I look around, realizing I don’t know anyone here. The entire Petropoulos family is inside, and although I’ve seen the cousins, aunts, and uncles on occasion, I don’t know any of them well enough to just walk up and break into conversation.

Maybe this is why your circle is so small, Sabrina’s voice rings in my ear.

A small circle is a quality circle, I snark back, reaching for a bacon-wrapped shrimp as it passes on a tray.

I’m lifting it to my mouth when a hand comes around my elbow. Turning in surprise, I blurt, “Oh, sorry!” and begin to hand back the hors d’oeuvre until I realize it’s only Alex, and I’ve just dropped the shrimp into her hand.

She stares down at it and then up at me before shrugging and popping it in her mouth. “Come with me,” she mumbles around the bite. “We’re sitting up front.”

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