Love and Other Words

Page 51

“It’s fine,” I tell him, “I can grab a Lyft.”

He nods. “Cool.”

I take a step forward, reaching for him, and he stares at my hand on his arm with a frown, as if it’s caked in mud.

“Can we talk tomorrow?” I ask.

His face twists, and he picks up another glass of champagne, downing this one in the time it takes for the waiter to offer me one, and for me to decline. Elliot grabs another before the anxious waiter ducks away.

“Sure we can talk tomorrow,” he says, waving the glass. “We can talk about the weather. Maybe our favorite type of pie? Or – oh – we haven’t yet talked about the merits of a Crock-Pot versus a pressure cooker. We could do that?”

“I mean finish what we’ve started,” I whisper, realizing we’ve drawn the attention of a few family members. “We weren’t finished.”

Alex watches us at a distance with wide, worried eyes.

“Weren’t we? I thought we had the grand finale. You did what you’re best at,” he says, smiling grimly. “You shut down.”

“You walked away,” I retort.

He laughs harshly, shaking his head and echoing in a murmur, “I walked away.”

Softening, I say, “Tomorrow… I’ll come by.”

Elliot lifts the glass, swallowing four gulps and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Sure thing, Macy.”

At one in the morning, the sky feels haunted in its darkness. I climb the porch to my old summer home, skipping over the predictably broken step. Using the long-ignored key on my ring, I let myself inside, where it’s even colder than it is in the woods; the insulation keeps the chill stored within the dark plaster walls. I turn on lights as I go, and kneel to set a small fire in the wood-burning stove.

Obviously, if I’ve been here only once in the past ten years, I should remember the exact dates, but I don’t. I only know it was a week, maybe two, before I left for my sophomore year at Tufts, and we drove up at night to sift through our possessions and move all the cherished things into closets we could lock, to keep curious vacation renters from taking anything. The memory of that night feels like a blur of watery color streaking through fog.

Upstairs, I sift through the other keys on my ring, finding the smaller one, and slide it into the lock on Dad’s closet door. It enters in jagged steps, sticking halfway through, requiring a tiny wiggle before it clicks and turns with a rusty protest.

His closet opens with a whiff of musty air, and my stomach drops when the scent and realization merge: I’ll need to throw most of this out. He kept some shirts and pants up here. Hiking boots, a fly-fishing vest. There are photo albums on the shelf up top, a nativity diorama I made in fourth grade. Letters from Mom. And, at the back, the stack of questionable magazines.

My butt lands on the floor before I realize I’ve been sliding down the door frame. Beneath the smell of mildew, there is the unmistakable smell of him: the Danish cigarettes, his aftershave, the bright linen scent of laundry. I pull a shirt from a hanger – messily; the wire flies up off the rod and hits the door on the way down. Pressing the flannel to my face, I inhale, choking through a sob.

I haven’t felt this way in so long. Or maybe I never felt this particular emotion: I want to cry. I want to positively sob. I give it full access, letting it tear through me into these awful howls that echo off the high ceilings and shake my torso, curling me forward. Snot, spit: I am a mess. I feel him right there behind me but I know he isn’t. I want to call out to him, to ask him what’s for breakfast. I want to hear the even cadence of his footsteps, the intermittent snap of the newspaper as he reads. All these instincts seem to live so close to the surface that they warp and weave through the fabric of possibility. Maybe he is downstairs, reading. Maybe he is just getting out of the shower.

It’s these tiny reminders that hurt, the tiny moments where you think – let me just call out to him. Ah, right. He’s dead. And you wonder how it happened, did it hurt, does he see me here in a sodden, sobbing puddle on his floor?

This is the only thing that interrupts the torrent, pulling a thick laugh from my throat. If Dad ever found me crying like this inside his closet, he would stare down – befuddled – before slowly lowering himself to a crouch, and reaching out, gently running his hand down my arm.

“What is it, Mace?”

“I miss you,” I tell him. “I wasn’t ready. I still needed you.”

He would get it, now. “I miss you, too. I needed you, too.”

“Are you hurt? Are you lonely?” I swipe an arm across my nose. “Are you with Mom?”


I close my eyes, feeling more tears slide across my temples and into my hair. “Does she remember me?”


“Do either of you remember you had a daughter?”

I’m not myself, I know I’m not, but I’m not embarrassed to be found like this, either, especially not by Dad. At least this way he’ll see how loved he was.

Strong arms come beneath my legs, around my back, and I’m lifted from the fog of mildew and Dad, and carried down the hall.

“I’m sorry,” I say, again and again. “I’m sorry I didn’t call. I’m sorry, Dad. It’s my fault.”

I’m still on his lap when he sits on my bed. He’s so warm, so solid.

I haven’t been this small in years.

“Mace, honey, look at me.”

My vision is blurry, but it’s easy to make out his features.

Greenish-gold eyes, black hair.

Not Dad, Elliot. Still in his tux, eyes bloodshot behind his glasses.

“There you are,” he says. “Come back to me. Where did you go?”

I slide my arms around his neck, jerking him closer, squeezing my eyes closed. I smell the grass on him, the bark of the olive tree. “It’s you.”

“It’s me.”

He needs my apology, too.

“I’m sorry, Ell. I ruined everything because I forgot to call.”

“I saw the lights on,” he whispers. “I came over and found you like this… Macy Lea, tell me what’s going on.”

“You needed me, and I wasn’t there.”

He goes quiet, kissing the top of my head. “Mace…”

“I needed you even more,” I say, and begin sobbing again. “But I couldn’t figure out how to forgive you.”

Elliot pushes my hair out of my face, eyes searching. “Honey, you’re scaring me. Talk to me.”

“I knew it wasn’t your fault,” I choke out, “but for so long it felt like it was.”

I see the confused tears fill his eyes. “I don’t understand what you…” He pulls me into his chest, one hand in my hair as his voice breaks. “Please tell me what’s going on.”

And so I do.


monday, january 1

eleven years ago


woke to the sharp slam of the door, the pounding of footsteps along the entryway tiles.


I groaned, cupping my stiff neck and sitting up just as Dad rounded the corner into the living room. A father’s first assumption rippled through him, and he rushed to my side, crouching.

“Did he hurt you?” His accent pushed the words together into a ball of anger.

“No.” I winced, stretching. Remembering. My stomach melted away. “Actually, yes.”

Dad’s hands made a careful trek over my shoulders and down my arms, taking my hands in his. He turned my palms over, inspecting them, and then pressed the pads of his thumbs to the centers of my hands.

I remember that touch like it was yesterday.

We linked fingers.

Realization pushed through the fog, and I registered that I was at the cabin, and Dad was here, too – in the freezing cold morning, more than seventy miles away from home. “What are you doing here?”

He gave me a hard look with soft edges. “You never called to tell me you arrived here safely. You didn’t answer your phone.”

Slumping into him, I mumbled, “I’m sorry,” against his broad chest. “I turned it off.”

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