I remember walking out of his bedroom the morning after our first tipsy hookup to find Phoebe sitting at the kitchen table eating Rice Chex, hair already in crooked pigtails, wearing mismatched socks, puppy-dog leggings, and a polka-dot sweater. In his haze of flirtation, Sean hadn’t mentioned he had a kid. I try to see it more as a testament to how great my boobs looked in that blue sweater than a huge, dickish omission on his part.
That morning, she looked up at me, eyes wide enough to easily confirm what he’d said the night before – that he hadn’t brought a woman home with him in three years – and asked if I was a new roommate.
How could I say no to puppy-dog leggings and crooked ponytails? I’ve been there every night since.
It’s not really a sacrifice. Sean is a dream in bed, easygoing, and makes a mean cup of coffee. At forty-two, he’s also financially secure, which goes a long way when you’re staring down the barrel at med school loans. And maybe it was initially the alcohol, but sex with him was only the second sex of my life that didn’t feel immediately afterward like I’d sent something priceless crashing to the floor.
“Chex?” I ask her, blindly reaching for the coffee filters above the sink.
She gives a small grunt of affirmation and then, after a minute, mumbles, “It was hot.”
So it wasn’t just my body’s claustrophobic response to seeing Elliot and waking up beside Sean; her dad’s been futzing with the thermostat again. That man was born for central Texas weather, not Bay Area. I move across the room, turning the heat down. “I thought you were on Daddy Heater Duty last night.”
Phoebe giggles. “He snuck away from me.”
The sound of the shower turning on drifts into the kitchen, and I feel like I’ve just been given a game-show challenge with a buzzer counting down: Get out of the house in the next two minutes!
I pour Phoebe’s cereal, jog into the bedroom, pull on a clean set of scrubs, pour my coffee, yank my shoes on, and plant one more kiss on Phoebe’s head before I’m out the door.
It’s crazy – at least it makes me sound crazy – but if Sean asked me about my day yesterday, I know without a doubt it would all come tumbling out.
I saw Elliot Petropoulos yesterday for the first time in almost exactly eleven years and I realized that I’m still in love with him and probably always will be.
Still want to marry me?
Unfortunately, a couple of days of distance doesn’t appear to be in the cards: Elliot is waiting outside the hospital when I walk up the hill from the bus stop.
It isn’t accurate to say that my heart stops, because really I feel its existence intensely, a phantom limb. My heart pinches in, and then roars to life, brutally punching me from the inside out. I slow my steps and try to figure out what to say. Irritation flares in me. He can’t be faulted for showing up at Saul’s when I happened to be there yesterday, but today is all him.
He turns when I call his name, and his posture deflates a little in relief. “I was hoping you’d show up early today.”
I look at him as I approach, eyes narrowed. Stopping a few feet from where he stands, hands deep in the pockets of his black jeans, I ask, “How did you know where and what time I was supposed to work?”
Guilt drains the color from his cheeks. “George’s wife works in reception there.” He lifts his chin, indicating the woman who is sitting just inside the sliding doors, and whom I’ve seen every morning for the past few months.
“Her name is Liz,” I confirm flatly, remembering the three letters etched into her blue plastic name tag.
“Yeah,” he says quietly. “Liz Petropoulos.”
I laugh incredulously. Under no other circumstances can I imagine a hospital administrative employee giving out information about a physician’s work schedule. People turn pretty unreasonable when a loved one gets sick. Make that loved one a child and forget about it. Even in the short time I’ve been working here, I’ve seen parents go after doctors who failed to cure their kid.
Elliot stares at me, unblinking. “Liz knows I’m not dangerous, Macy.”
“She could be fired. I’m a physician in critical pediatrics. She can’t just give out my information, not even if it’s her own family.”
“Okay, shit. I shouldn’t have done that,” he says, genuinely contrite. “Look. I work at ten. I…” Squinting past me down Mariposa, he says, “I was hoping we would have time to talk a little before then.” When I don’t say anything in reply, he bends to meet my gaze, pressing, “Do you have time?”
I look up at him, and our eyes hook, tunneling me back to every other time we shared an intense, silent exchange. Even this many years later, I think we can read each other pretty fucking well.
Breaking the connection, I glance down at my watch. It’s just after seven thirty. And although no one upstairs would complain if I showed up to work an hour and a half before I was scheduled, Elliot would know that if I said I had to get inside, I’d be lying.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “I have about an hour.”
He tilts his head, slowly leans to the right, and, as a smile curves his mouth, he takes one shuffle-step, then another, as if luring me with his cuteness.
“Coffee?” His smile grows, and I notice his teeth, how even they are. A flash of Elliot at fourteen, wearing headgear, pulses through my thoughts. “Bakery? Greasy spoon?”
I point to the next block and the tiny four-table café that has yet to be overrun with residents and family members anxiously waiting for news postsurgery.
Inside it’s warm – bordering on too warm, the theme of my morning – and there are still two tables empty up front. Seating ourselves, we pick up the menus and peruse in tight silence.
“What’s good?” he asks.
I laugh. “I’ve never had breakfast here.”
Elliot looks up at me, blinks leisurely, and something in my stomach melts into a liquid heat that spreads lower. What’s weird, I realize, is that Elliot and I ate out together only a handful of times, and never alone.
“I usually scarf a muffin or bagel from the cafeteria.” I break eye contact, and decide on the yogurt and granola parfait before putting my menu down. “I bet everything is pretty tasty.”
Covertly, I watch him read, his eyes scanning quickly across the words. Elliot and words. Peanut butter and chocolate. Coffee and biscotti. Love matches made in heaven.
He reaches up, idly scratching his neck as he hums. “Eggs or pancakes? Eggs or pancakes?”
As he leans forward on an elbow, his shoulder muscle bunches beneath his cotton T-shirt. He rubs a finger back and forth just below his bottom lip. His phone buzzes near his arm, but he ignores it.
Have mercy. The only thought I have – bewildering and breathless – is that Elliot has become a man who knows how to use his body. I didn’t notice it yesterday, couldn’t have.
As he grins in his decision,
as he slides the menu gently back into the holder,
as he reaches for his napkin and lays it carefully across his lap,
as he looks up at me, pursing his lips slightly in happiness,
I suddenly feel grateful for the eleven intervening years, because would I have noticed all these little things otherwise? Or would they have blended together, blurring, known as the constellation of tiny mannerisms that slowly becomes Just Elliot?
I blink away when our waitress comes to the table and takes our order.
When she leaves, he leans in again. “Is it possible to catch me up on a decade over breakfast?”
Memories reel through my thoughts: Leaving for college in a fog. Living in the dorm with Sabrina and, later, in a small apartment off-campus that always seemed to be full of books and beer bottles and clouds of weed smoke. Moving with her to Baltimore for med school and the long nights I spent pseudo-praying that I would be matched at UCSF so I could live close to home again, even if home was empty. How does one condense a lifetime into the time it takes to share a cup of coffee?
“Looking back, it doesn’t feel all that busy,” I say. “College. Med school.”