We’re back and just over a week to go! Love and Other Words hits shelves and ereaders everywhere on April 10th, including a signed edition available only at your local Target. As always, happy reading!
Tuesday, October 3
Elliot still hasn’t seen me.
He waits near the espresso bar for his drink with his head ducked as he looks down. In a sea of people connecting to the world via the isolation of their smartphones, Elliot is reading a book.
Does he even have a phone? For anyone else, it would be an absurd question. Not for him. Eleven years ago he did, but it was a hand-me-down from his father and the kind of flipphone that required him to hit the 5 key three times if he wanted to type an L. He rarely used it as anything other than a paperweight.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Sabrina asks.
I blink over to her, brows drawn. I know she knows the answer to this question, at least generally. But my expression relaxes when I understand there’s nothing else she can do right now but make conversation; I’ve turned into a mute maniac.
“My senior year in high school. New Year’s.”
She gives a full, bared-teeth wince. “Right.”
Some instinct kicks in, some self-preservationist energy propelling me up and out of my chair.
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking down at Sabrina and Viv. “I’m going to head out.”
“Of course. Yeah. Totally.”
“I’ll call this weekend? Maybe we can do Golden Gate Park.”
She’s still nodding as if my robotic suggestion is even a remote possibility. We both know I haven’t had a weekend off since before I started my residency in July.
Trying to move as inconspicuously as possible, I pull my bag over my shoulder and bend to kiss Sabrina’s cheek.
“I love you,” I say, standing, and wishing I could take her with me. She smells like baby, too.
Sabrina nods, returning the sentiment, and then, while I gaze at Viv and her chubby little fist, she glances back over her shoulder and freezes.
From her posture, I know Elliot has seen me.
“Um . . .” she says, turning back and lifting her chin as if I should probably take a look. “He’s coming.”
I dig into my bag, working to appear extremely busy and distracted. “I’m gonna jet,” I mumble.
I freeze, one hand on the strap of my bag, my eyes on the floor. A nostalgic pang resonates through me as soon as I hear his voice. It had been high and squeaky until it broke. He got endless shit about how nasal and whiny he was, and then, one day, the universe had the last laugh, giving Elliot a voice like warm, rich honey.
He says my name again—no nickname, this time, but quieter: “Macy Lea?”
I look up, and—in an impulse I’m sure I will be laughing about until I die—I lift my hand and wave limply, offering a bright “Elliot! Hey!”
As if we’re casual acquaintances from freshman orientation.
You know, as if we met once on the train from Santa Barbara.
Just as he pushes his thick hair out of his eyes in a gesture of disbelief I’ve seen him make a million times, I turn and press through the crowd and out onto the sidewalk. I’m jogging in the wrong direction before catching my mistake halfway down the block and whipping around. Two long strides back the other way, with my head down, heart hammering, and I slam right into a broad chest.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I blurt before I look up and realize what I’ve done.
Elliot’s hands come around my upper arms, holding me steady only a few inches away from him. I know he’s looking at my face, waiting for me to meet his gaze, but my eyes are stuck on the sight of his Adam’s apple, and my thoughts are stuck remembering how I used to stare at his neck, covertly, on and off for hours while we were reading together in the closet.
“Macy. Seriously?” he says quietly, meaning a thousand things.
Seriously, is it you?
Seriously, why did you just run off?
Seriously, where have you been for the past decade?
Part of me wishes I could be the kind of person to just push past and run away and pretend this never happened. I could get back on BART, hop on the Muni to the hospital, and delve into a busy workday managing emotions that, honestly, are much bigger and more deserving than these.
But another part of me has been expecting this exact moment for the past eleven years. Relief and anguish pulse heavily in my blood. I’ve wanted to see him every day. But also, I never wanted to see him again.
“Hi.” I finally look up at him. I’m trying to figure out what to say here; my head is full of senseless words. It’s a storm of black and white.
“Are you . . . ?” he starts breathlessly. He still hasn’t let go of me. “Did you move back here?”
I watch as he takes in my scrubs, my ugly sneakers. “Physician?”
I am a robot. His dark brows lift.
“So what are you doing here today?”
God, what a weird place to begin. But when there’s a mountain ahead of you, I guess you start with a single step to the straightest point ahead. “I was meeting Sabrina for coffee.”
He scrunches his nose in a painfully familiar expression of incomprehension.
“My college roommate,” I clarify. “She lives in Berkeley.”
Elliot deflates a tiny bit, reminding me that he doesn’t know Sabrina. It used to bother us when we would have a month in between updates. Now there are years and entire lives unknown to each other.
“I called you,” he says. “Like a million times. And then that number changed.”
He runs his hand through his hair and shrugs helplessly. And I get it. This whole fucking moment is so surreal. Even now it’s incomprehensible that we let this distance happen. That I let this happen.
“I know. I, um, got a new phone,” I say lamely.
He laughs, but it isn’t a particularly happy sound. “Yeah, I figured.”
“Elliot,” I say, pushing past the clog in my throat at the feel of his name there, “I’m sorry. I really have to run. I need to be at work soon.”
He bends so that he’s level with my face. “Are you kidding?” His eyes go wide. “I can’t just run into you at Saul’s and be like, ‘Hey, Macy, what’s up,’ and then you go to work, and I go to work, and we don’t talk for another ten fucking years.”
And there it is. Elliot was never able to play the surface game.
“I’m not prepared for this,” I admit quietly.
“Do you have to prepare for me?”
“If there’s anyone I have to prepare for, it’s you.”
This hits him where I meant it to—straight in the bull’s-eye of some vulnerable nucleus—but as soon as he winces I regret it.
“Just give me a minute,” he urges, pulling me to the edge of the sidewalk so we aren’t obstructing the steady stream of commuters. “How are you? How long have you been back? How is Duncan?”
All around us, the world seems to go still.
“I’m good,” I say mechanically. “I moved back in May.” I am obliterated by his third question, and my answer comes out trembling: “And, um . . . Dad died.”
Elliot lurches slightly backward. “What?”
“Yeah,” I say, voice garbled. I am struck dumb by this, struggling to rewrite history, to rewire a thousand synapses in my brain.
Somehow, I’m managing to have this conversation without completely losing my shit, but if I stand here for two more minutes, all bets are off. With Elliot right here asking about Dad, and going on two hours of sleep and the prospect of an eighteen-hour day ahead of me . . . I need to get out of here before I melt down.
But when I look up at him, I see Elliot’s face is a mirror to what’s happening in my chest. He looks devastated. He’s the only one who would look that way after hearing that Dad died, because he’s the only one who would have understood what it did to me.
“Duncan died?” His voice comes out thick with emotion. “Macy, why didn’t you tell me?”
Holy shit, that is an enormous question.
“I . . .” I start, and shake my head. “We weren’t in touch when it happened.”
Nausea rolls up from my stomach to my throat. What a cop-out. What an unbelievable evasion.
He shakes his head. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Mace.”
I give myself three more seconds to look at him, and it’s like another punch to the gut. He’s my person. He’s always been my person. My best friend, my confidant, probably the love of my life. And I’ve spent the last eleven years being angry and self-righteous. But at the end of the day, he tore a hole in us, and fate ripped it wide open.
“I’m going to go,” I say in an abrupt burst of awkward. “Okay?”
Before he can answer, I split, booking it down the street toward the BART station. The entire time I’m speed walking, and for the full rumbling trip back under the bay, I feel like he’s right there, behind me or in a seat in the next car down.