His lips press to my forehead. “Do you think we can do this?” he asks, keeping his lips there. “Do we get our chance now to be together together?”
“We’ve certainly earned it.”
He pulls back, looking at me. “I’ve just been lying here, thinking. In some ways, I should have figured it out. I should have wondered why Duncan never came back. I just assumed you were both so angry at me.”
“Over time I let myself trust my memories more.” I reach up, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “I realized whether or not you had something casual and consistent with Emma, you did really love me.”
“Of course I did.” He stares, eyes tight. “I hate that Duncan died thinking otherwise.”
There’s not really anything I can say to this. I just squeeze him tighter, pressing my lips to the pulse point beneath his jaw.
“I still love this room,” I whisper.
Beside me, Elliot goes still. “It’s funny you say that… I love it, too. But I came in here to say goodbye.”
My heart peeks over the cliff, falling off. “What does that mean?”
He pushes up on an elbow, looking down at me. “It means I don’t think we belong in here anymore.”
“Well, no, we won’t be in here all the time. But why not keep the cabin, and —”
“I mean, look, obviously it’s yours, and you should do with it what you want.” He runs his fingertip below my lip and bends, kissing me once. When he pulls away, I chase his mouth, wanting more. “But I want us to move past this closet,” he says gently. “The closet isn’t why we fell in love. We made this room special, not the other way around.”
I know my expression looks devastated, and I don’t know how to reel it back in. I love being in here with him. The best years of my life were in here, and I’ve never felt safer than I do in the closet.
And that’s when I know Elliot is already two steps ahead of me.
“I bet, the way you see it, everything fell apart when we tried to live outside,” he says, and leans down, kissing me again. “But that’s just shitty luck. It isn’t going to be that way this time.”
“No?” I ask, biting back a relieved smile and tugging at his shoulders so he hovers over me.
“No.” He grins, settling between my legs, his eyes going a little unfocused.
“What is it going to be like this time?” I slide his glasses off, setting them on one of the empty shelves.
Elliot kisses a slow path up my neck. “It’s going to be what we wanted before.”
“Thanksgiving on the floor in our underwear?”
He growls out a little laugh, pressing his hips forward when I reach down, lowering his zipper. “And you in my bed, every night.”
“Maybe you’ll be in my bed.”
When he pulls back, his eyes narrow. “Then you have to actually go to your damn house, woman.”
I laugh, and he laughs, too, but the truth of this sits between us, making him go still. He watches me, and I can tell it’s turned into a question during our silence; he’s not letting me off the hook.
“Will you go with me? To clean it out?” I wince, admitting, “I haven’t been back in a really long time.”
Elliot kisses me once, and then ducks, kissing my chest over my heart. “I’ve been waiting for you to come home for eleven years. I’ll go anywhere you go.”
wednesday, january 10
’m hit with a powerful blast of nostalgia as soon as we open the door. Inside, the Berkeley house smells just as it always has – like home – but I don’t think I realized before how home smells like Mom’s cedar trunk we used as a coffee table, and Dad’s Danish cigarettes – apparently he snuck them more than I knew. A sunbeam bursting in through the living room window captures a few tiny stars of dust, spinning. I have a woman come and clean the house once a month, but even though things look tidy, the place still feels abandoned.
It sends a guilty ache spearing through my middle.
Elliot comes up behind me, peeking over my shoulder and into the living room. “Do you think we’ll make it inside today?”
He softens his joke with a kiss to my shoulder, and I can’t exactly blame him for the gentle jab: we’ve driven by the house twice now, late at night after my shifts at the hospital. I’ve been too mentally drained to feel up to rejoining my childhood home. But I don’t work until tonight, and today I woke up feeling… ready.
Our plan for now is to sell the Healdsburg house and clean out the Berkeley place to make it ready for visiting Cal faculty who want a furnished rental. But cleaning it out for this means taking all the important memories with me – photo albums, artwork, letters, tiny mementos sprinkled everywhere.
I take a step in, and then another. The wood floor creaks where it always did. Elliot follows me in, looking around. “This house smells like Duncan.”
He hums, passing me to walk over to the mantel, where there are photos of the three of us, of Kennet and Britt, of Mom’s parents, who died when she was young.
“You know, I’ve only ever seen one photo of her. The one Duncan had next to his bed.”
Her. My mother. Laís, to everyone else. Mãe, to me.
Elliot trails his fingers over a few frames and then picks one up, studying it, before looking over at me.
I know which one he’s holding. It’s a picture Dad took of me and Mom at the beach. The wind is blowing her long black hair across her neck, and I’m leaning against her, sitting between her legs, with her arms wrapped around my chest. Her smile was so wide and bright; in it, you can see without having to be told that she was an absolute force of nature.
He blinks down to it again. “You look so much like her, it’s uncanny.”
“I know.” I am so grateful for the passing of time, that I can see her face and be glad that I inherited it from her, rather than terrified that looking in the mirror would be a greater torture every day as I aged and began to look more like how I remembered her.
I kneel down by the cedar trunk, where all our photos, letters, and keepsakes live.
“This one should go in our apartment.”
The lid to the trunk is halfway up when Elliot says this, and I lower it back down without looking. Warmth spreads so quickly through my limbs that I grow light-headed. “‘Our apartment’?”
He looks up from the picture. “I was thinking we should move in somewhere together. In the city.”
It’s only been ten days since we got back together, but even in that time, the commute between us is a beast. Renting a room from Nancy means that having “company” stay over is awkward enough to be impossible. And Elliot is simply too far away from the hospital for me to stay with him, either. Most nights, he meets me for a late dinner in the city and then drives home, and I fall into bed.
The one day off I had in that time – two days ago – we didn’t ever leave his apartment. We made love in his bed, on the floor, in the kitchen. For a brief pulse I imagine having access to him – to his voice and hands and laugh and weight over me every time I come home – and the desire for it becomes a second pulse in my chest.
“You’d move to the city?” I ask.
Elliot sets the picture down and sits beside me on the worn Persian rug. “Do you really question that?” Behind his glasses, his eyes seem nearly amber in the sunlight coming in the window. His lashes are so long.
I want to kiss him so much right now my mouth waters. I know we have work to do, but I’m distracted by the stubble on his jaw, and how easy it would be to climb into his lap and make love to him right now.
“Macy?” he says, grinning under the force of my attention.
I blink up to his face. “It’s a big commute for you.”
“My hours are more flexible than yours,” he says, and then a wicked light fills his eyes. “And having you in bed every night might help inspire ideas for my dragon porn.”
I laugh. “I knew it.”
We move in together on March 1. It’s pouring rain, and our apartment is a tiny one-bedroom, but it has a huge bay window and is only a half block away from the bus line that takes me directly to work. Elliot and his three brothers build a wall of bookcases, and – maybe a little awkwardly – Mr. Nick and Miss Dina bring us a new bed. I would have protested, but it’s a beautiful four-poster frame, handmade by one of Mr. Nick’s longtime patients. Alex, Else, and Liz drive to Nest Bedding to buy all manner of bed dressings – because neither Elliot nor I care what our sheets look like – and Miss Dina makes dinner while we all unpack, crammed into the small space.