My cheek rubs along his when I nod. “I always have. You know that.”
His lips are close enough to my ear that they brush against the shell when he asks, “Then why did you leave me?”
“I was hurt,” I tell him. “And then I was broken.”
Now he reacts. His feet come to a stop on the floor. “What broke you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it here.”
He pulls back, eyes flickering between mine as if there might be different messages communicated there. “Do you want to leave?”
I don’t know. I do want to leave… but not to talk.
“Whenever you can,” I say. “Later is fine.”
Anywhere. All I know is that I need to be alone with him. Need to in this restless, straining way. I want to be alone with him.
I want him.
“I don’t care where we go.” I slide my other hand up his chest, around his neck and into his hair. Elliot’s breath catches when he realizes what I’m doing: pulling him down to kiss me.
His lips come over mine in a fever, hands moving to cup my face, to hold me close as if my kiss is a delicate, fleeting thing.
His kiss is an aching prayer; devotion pours from him. He sucks my bottom lip, my top, tilting his head for more, and deeper, before I pull back, reminding him with a tiny flicker of my eyes where we are and just how many people have noticed.
Elliot doesn’t care about them. He takes my hand, leading me down the steps from the lit dance floor and into the gardens.
Our shoes swish through wet grass. I pull my dress up into my fist, jogging after him.
Deeper down the trail we go, into blackness, where all I hear is the buzzing of insects and the ripple of wind through the leaves. The voices disappear into the light behind us.
sunday, december 31
eleven years ago
ad materialized at my side, holding a flute of champagne for him and a flute of what smelled suspiciously like ginger ale for me.
“Not even one glass of hooch?” I asked, pretending to scowl. “This party sucks.”
Dad took this in stride with an impressed sweep of his attention around the room, because this party, quite obviously, did not suck. It was in the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel and was packed with beautiful people who were dripping jewelry and were – thankfully – surprisingly lively. The entire room had been decorated with thousands – maybe even a million tiny white lights. We were spending New Year’s in the heart of a constellation. Even though I was away from Elliot, I couldn’t exactly complain.
It was only a few minutes away from midnight, and the crowd was growing thick around us, pressing in closer to the bar so everyone could get a drink in hand before the New Year was rung in.
Tucked beneath my arm, my clutch began to vibrate. I looked up at Dad, who gave me the single nod of permission, and stepped out into the hall.
I glanced down at my phone. Eleven fifty-five. Elliot was calling me.
“Hey,” I said, breathless.
“Hey, Mace.” His voice was thick and happy.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. “Have we had a couple of cocktails, Mr. Petropoulos?”
“One or two.” He laughed. “Apparently I’m a lightweight.”
“Because you’re not a drinker.” Moving deeper into the quiet hallway, I leaned against the wall there. The clamor from the party faded into an array of background noise: voices, glasses clinking, music. “Where are you?”
“Party.” He fell quiet, and I heard shuffling in the background, the sound of a doorbell in the distance. “At, um… someone’s house.”
He hesitated, and with the intake of air I could hear on the other line, the way he held it, I knew what was coming. “Christian’s.”
I was quiet for a beat. I knew only enough about Christian to feel faintly uneasy about his influence. Things always turned too wild when Christian was around, at least that’s how Elliot spun it. “Ah.”
“Don’t ‘Ah’ me, missy,” he said, voice low and slow. “It’s a house party. It’s a party with lots of people in a big house.”
“I know,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Just be careful. Are you having fun?”
Grinning at this, I asked, “Who else is there?”
“People,” he mumbled. “Brandon. Christian.” A pause. “Emma.” My stomach clenched. “Other people from school,” he quickly added.
I heard something fall and crash in the background, Elliot’s quiet “Ow, stop,” and a girl laughing his name before he seemed to move somewhere quieter. “And, I don’t know, Mace. You’re not here. So I don’t really give a shit who is.”
I laughed tightly. This call felt like a shove forward, into a life where we had beers together, and dorm rooms, and hours upon hours alone. I felt our future looming, teasing.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m at the glitzy soiree.”
“Right, right. Black tie. Society.”
I looked back over my shoulder into the wide ballroom. “Everyone around me is hammered.”
“Sounds like your party,” I shot back, watching Dad across the room, talking with a pretty blonde. “Dad seems to be having a decent time.”
“Are you wearing something fancy?”
I looked down at my shimmering green dress. “Yeah. A green sequined dress. I look like a mermaid.”
“Like, Disney princess?”
I laughed. “No.” Running my hand down my stomach, I added, “But I think you’d like it.”
“Is it short?”
“Not really. Knee length?”
Biting my lip, I lowered my voice. Unnecessarily, for sure: the party was roaring. “Not skin-tight. Fitted… ish.”
“Eh,” he grunted. “Wouldn’t you rather be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with me? On my lap?”
I giggled at his missing filter. “Definitely.”
“I love you.”
I froze, closing my eyes at the sound of these words.
Say it again, I thought, and then immediately wondered if this was really how I wanted to hear him confess this: while he was drunk – for the first time, as far as I knew – and many miles away.
“I do,” he growled. “I love you so fucking much. I love you, and I lust you and want you. I love you as the person I want to be with forever. I just… Macy? Will you marry me?”
Time stopped. Planets aligned and then shifted apart. Years passed. The voices and music and clinking of glasses all around me faded to nothing and all I could hear was the echo of his blurted proposal.
I stuttered through several sounds before I was able to speak.
Unfortunately, “What?” was the first thing to come out coherently.
“Shit,” he groaned. “Shit, I just totally messed that up.”
His voice came out muffled when he said, “Will you come see me? I want to ask you to marry me. In person.”
I looked around the room, my heart a blazing thunderbolt in my chest. “I… Ell… I’m not sure I can come up tonight. This is huge.”
“It is huge. But it’s real.”
“Okay. I hear you,” I said, pinching my eyes closed. He told me he loved me and asked me to marry him in one conversation. Over the phone. “It’s just… there is no way Dad would let me get on the road with all the drunk people.”
He was silent for so long that I looked down at my phone to make sure I hadn’t lost the call.
“Do you love me?”
I exhaled, blinked away tears. This wasn’t how I wanted this conversation – how I wanted to discuss our future – but here it was, in my face, demanding to happen like this. “You know I do. I don’t want to do this over the phone.”
“I know you don’t, but do you know what I mean? Do you want to marry me? Do you want to make this forever? At Goat Rock, and the library, and walking everywhere, and traveling. Do you want to touch me and be with me and wake up with my mouth on you and do you want me to be the one to give you orgasms or… fuck, watch you have them or whatever? Do you think about a life with me or marrying me?”