His nostrils flare, and he blinks away, jaw tight. “Oh, my God.”
“This… explains.” Elliot shakes his head, digging a hand into the front of his hair. “Why you didn’t call me back.”
Quietly, I tell him, “I wasn’t thinking very clearly – after – I wasn’t able to separate – you. And it.”
I’m so bad at words.
“Holy shit, Macy.” Catching himself, he turns and pulls me back into his arms, but it’s different.
I’ve had more than a decade to deal with this; Elliot has had two minutes.
“When you stopped me outside Saul’s,” I say into his shirt, “and asked how Duncan was?”
He nods against me. “I had no idea.”
“I thought you knew,” I told him. “I thought you would have heard… somehow.”
“We didn’t have anyone else in common,” he says quietly. “It was like you disappeared.”
I nod, and he tightens. Something seems to occur to him. “All this time you weren’t out there thinking that I intentionally slept with Emma, knew your dad died, and was fine with it, were you?”
I try my best to explain the fogginess of my logic at the time. “I don’t think I really thought about it like that – that you were fine with it. I knew you were trying to call me. I knew, rationally, that you did love me. But I thought that maybe you and Emma had more of a thing going on than you ever told me. I was embarrassed and heartbroken…”
“We didn’t have a thing,” he says urgently.
“I think it was Christian who said you two hooked up sometimes —”
“Macy,” Elliot says quietly, cupping my face so I’ll look at him. “Christian is an idiot. You knew everything that happened with me and Emma. There wasn’t some other secret layer to it.”
I want to tell him that, in truth, this is all moot now, but I can see that to him, it isn’t. His intent means everything.
He squints, still struggling to put this all together. “Andreas said he saw you, the next summer. Coming in here with your dad.”
I shake my head, until I realize what he means. “That was my uncle Kennet.” I sniff, wiping my nose again. “We drove up to pack our things and put them away.” I look around us, at the familiar, now-drab paint on the walls, remembering how I didn’t actually want to move a single thing. I wanted it left exactly the way it was, a museum. “That was the last time I was here.”
“I was home that summer,” he whispers. “All summer. I spent every day looking for you. I wondered how I could have possibly missed the moment you came by.”
“We went in late. We kept the lights off.” Even now, it sounds utterly ridiculous how we snuck in like burglars, using flashlights to get what we needed. Kennet thought I’d lost it again. “I was worried I would see you.”
Elliot pulls back, mouth turned down. I hate that this is opening old wounds, but I hate even more that it’s making fresh ones.
“Maybe ‘worried’ is the wrong word,” I correct, though I know even in hindsight it isn’t – I had a panic attack the night before Kennet and I got in the car to drive here, and I couldn’t stand the thought of Elliot seeing me that way. “In the first year after Dad died, at Tufts, I had found this sort of quiet, calm place.” Humming, I say, “Maybe I would have run into your arms. But I worried I would be angry, or sad. It was just so much easier to feel nothing instead.”
He bends, resting his elbows on his thighs, head in his hands. Reaching up, I rub his back, small circles between his shoulder blades.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“No.” He turns and looks over his shoulder at me, giving me a wan smile to take the bite out of his answer, and then his face pales as he stares at me. I can see the realization wash over him again.
“Mace.” His face falls. “How do I say I’m sorry? How do I ever —”
“Elliot, no —”
In a flash, he bolts up, sprinting out of the room. I stand to follow, but the bathroom door slams and it’s quickly followed by the sound of Elliot’s knees landing on the floor and him vomiting.
I press my forehead to the door, hearing the flush, the tap running, his quiet groan.
“Elliot?” My heart feels like it’s been squeezed inside a fist.
“I just need a minute, Mace, I’m sorry, just give me a minute?”
I slide down the wall, setting up vigil outside the bathroom, listening to him throwing up again.
I wake up under the covers, on my bed, without any memory of how I got here. The only answer is that I fell asleep on the floor in the hall, and Elliot carried me to the bedroom, but the other side of the bed looks untouched, and he’s nowhere to be seen.
A muffled cough comes from the closet, and relief flushes hot in my limbs. He’s still here. It’s cold, and I drag the comforter with me out of bed, peeking inside. Elliot is stretched out on the floor, hands behind his head, legs crossed at the ankle, staring up at the cracked, faded stars. He still stretches across the entire room. I haven’t been back in here in years, and it seems tiny. How it used to feel like an entire world, a planet inside, amazes me.
“Hey, you,” he says, smiling over at me. His eyes are bloodshot, nose red.
“Hey. You feeling better?”
“I guess. Still reeling, though.” He pats the floor beside him. “Come here.” His voice is a quiet growl. “Come down here with me.”
I lie down next to him, snuggling into his chest when he slides an arm around me, squeezing me close.
“How long was I asleep?” I ask.
“A couple hours.”
I feel like I could sleep for another decade, but at the same time, I don’t want to waste a single second with him.
“Is there anything else we need to cover?” I ask, looking up at him.
“I’m sure there is,” he says, “but right now I’m just sort of… rewiring everything inside my head.”
“I mean… that’s understandable. I’ve had eleven years to process it, you’ve had just a moment. I want you to know – it’s okay if you have some hurt here.” I rub my hand over his breastbone. “I know it’s not going to be this immediate clearing of the air.”
He takes a few seconds before replying, and when he does, his voice is hoarse. “Losing you was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and I still feel the echo of that – those were really hard years – but it helps, knowing. As terrible as it is, it helps to know.” He looks at me, and his eyes fill again. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when Duncan died.”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry I just vanished.” I kiss his shoulder.
He reaches up with his free hand, wiping a palm down his face. “Honey, you lost your mom at ten, and your dad at eighteen. It sucks that you disappeared, but it’s not like I don’t get it. Holy shit, your life just… crumbled that day.”
I move my hand under his shirt, up over his stomach, coming to rest above his heart. “It was terrible.” I press my face to where his neck meets shoulder, trying to push away those memories and inhaling the familiar smell of him. “What were those years like for you?”
He hums, thinking. “I focused on school. If you mean romantically, I had so much guilt that I didn’t really get involved with anyone until later.”
My heart aches at this. “Alex said you didn’t bring anyone home until Rachel.”
“Can we be clear about one thing?” he says, kissing my hair. “Definitively, and without question?”
“What’s that?” I love the solid feel of him next to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.
“That I love you,” he whispers, tilting my chin so I’ll look up at him. “Okay?”
“I love you, too.” Emotion fills my chest, making my words come out strangled. I will always miss my parents, but I have Elliot back. Together we were able to resurrect something.