“I mentioned to Christian that you hadn’t called me back, and he said, ‘Probably because she saw Emma naked on top of you.’”
I blink away. I still see the image, so clearly.
“And the worst bit of that,” he says quietly, “is that until he said it, I didn’t know I’d been with Emma. She wasn’t there in the morning.”
I need to digest this for two, three, four breaths. “You woke up with your pants at your knees, Ell. That didn’t clue you in?”
“This is the part I can’t figure out,” he whispers. “In my head, it was you. In my head, you came up to the party, you found me passed out on Chris’s bed. In my head, you went down on me, climbed on top of me. I don’t remember having sex with Emma that night. I remember having sex with you.”
“Can you hear yourself?” I stare at him, mouth agape. Inside my rib cage, my heart is a barreling thunder at the words went down on me. I never went down on him – but she did? “Do you hear the bullshit meter screaming in the background? You’re telling me that the night you had sex with Emma, you thought it was me?”
Elliot groans, raking a hand through his hair. “I realize how insane it sounds. Even at the time, I couldn’t piece the night together, and I’ve had eleven years to try to make sense of it. I was so drunk, Mace. I remember waking up to the feel of your mouth on me. I remember touching your hair, talking to you, encouraging. And when I look back, I still see your face when she climbed on me.”
He shakes his head, squeezing his eyes closed, and when he says this, I remember what Brandon started to say, something about how Elliot wouldn’t.
“I woke up,” he continued, “and had a moment of blistering embarrassment because Chris’s bedroom door was open and a few people were walking around cleaning shit up. I was all alone with my dick hanging out. I texted you asking where you’d gone. Two days I went along with things, thinking I’d had drunk sex with my girlfriend at a party. I thought you were embarrassed or angry at me for being so wasted, and that’s why you hadn’t called.”
Is this his truth – some quiet, heartbreaking mistake? Part of me aches for this version of things, wanting to believe it so badly that it makes my teeth clench. The other part of me wants to scream that this tiny whimper of a drunken misunderstanding unraveled everything. It should have been something intentional, something enormous. Something worthy of what came after.
“If you’d have let me explain…” he says quietly, looking at me in bewilderment. “I called you over, and over —”
“I know you did.”
I was aware that Elliot called several times a day, for months. I never checked my old email account afterward, but if I had, there would probably be scores of unread messages there, too.
I knew his regret was enormous.
But that wasn’t ever the problem.
“I fucked up,” he says, “but Macy, even as bad as that is – and I know it was bad – was it really worth this?” He gestures between us. “Was it really enough to make you just… drop me? After everything? To not talk to me – ever again?”
I stare at him, plucking words from the masses and arranging and rearranging them into sentences. The Emma thing feels so small now. It was just the first domino. “We had this deep, unbreakable trust, you know – and you broke that, you did – but it’s not just that. It’s… it’s me. It’s been me, too.”
“You don’t think I deserved the chance to explain?” he asks, misunderstanding my incoherence, restrained emotion making his voice tight.
I can tell he’s waiting for an answer. And the answer is yes, of course he deserved a chance to explain. Of course he did. In an alternate reality, he would have called me later that day, and I would have answered.
“I loved you,” he says. “I have always loved you. There was never anyone but you for me, you knew that.”
I fumble through my words: “It was a really bad… it was a bad night —”
“I know it was bad, Mace.” His voice is growing harder, nearly disbelieving. “We were each other’s first love, first sex, first everything. But come on. That’s a knockdown, drag-out fight. That isn’t… disappearing for a decade.”
“It wasn’t just that.” My heart and mouth seem to agree that we cannot, in fact, do this right now.
Metal screeches against asphalt in my ears. I close my eyes, shaking my head to clear it.
“Do you have any idea what it’s been like?” he asks, getting more frustrated now in the face of my inarticulate fluster. “Every day, I woke up and wondered if that would be the day I’d see you again. And if I did, how would it go? I missed you, so much. I’m twenty nine, and I’ve never loved another woman.” He stares at me, unblinking. “And every woman I’ve been with knows it, unfortunately for them.”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. He stares at me, bewildered.
“You want to know what Rachel meant about how fucked-up I was? Well, here’s one example: the first person to go down on me after you left had to sit there while I broke down like a fucking maniac,” he says, “trying to explain why I didn’t want her to give me head.”
“I’m sorry.” I cover my face, breathing in, breathing out. Item twenty-seven on Mom’s list was to remind me to breathe. In and out, ten times, when I’m stressed.
“I’m sorry, too. I want this,” he whispers. “I want you.”
I want you, too, I think. But I don’t even know how to tell you that Emma is the least of it. Another woman giving you head is the least of it.
“Talk to me, Mace,” he urges. “Please.”
“I want you,” he repeats, and his voice carries a strange distance. “But I’m realizing now that maybe I shouldn’t.”
By the time I reach ten, my hands are no longer shaking when I lower them. But because I didn’t expect Elliot to leave, I never heard him walk away.
In the dark night, the reception on the outdoor porch is a beacon of tiny lights and stars thrown from candlelight traveling through glasses of champagne. Heat lamps placed at regular intervals are warm enough in the night chill to make the humid air warp around the slow-dancing couples.
I find George to the left of the dance floor, near the wedding cake, which has already been cut and shared. His cheeks are red, smile wide, eyes watery with happy inebriation.
“Mace!” he yells, pulling me into a lumbering hug. “Where’s my brother?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
He reaches up, pulling a small twig from my hair and good God it only occurs to me now that I have no idea what I look like coming out of the gardens after fucking Elliot.
George grins. “I suspect you have a better idea than I do.”
Liz comes up beside him, grinning at her tipsy husband. “Macy! Whoa, you look…” Understanding comes into her eyes and she barks out a laugh. “Where’s Elliot?”
“The question of the hour,” George murmurs.
“I’m right here.”
We turn, finding him standing just to the side, holding a half-finished glass of champagne. The warm flush I felt on his cheek, against my lips, is gone. In its place is a pale stare, a slash of a frown. His tie is missing, shirt unbuttoned at the collar and smudged with both dirt and lipstick. Looking at him now, it is doubly obvious what we’ve been doing.
I smile at him, trying to communicate with my eyes that there’s more to discuss here, but he’s not looking at me anymore. Tilting the flute to his lips, he downs the rest, places it on the tray of a passing waiter, and then says, “Macy, did you need me to drop you off at your motel?”
Shock causes a cold wave to pass through me. George and Liz go quiet and then shuffle away under a haze of secondhand mortification. My heart takes off, a snare drum leading into a cymbal crash as I realize I’m being asked to leave.