Love and Other Words
Page 26

 Christina Lauren

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He shifted where he sat. “Sort of.”
I felt mortified. The blush I’d been fighting seemed to explode beneath my skin, and I wanted to roll over, press my face back into my pillow. I’d been jealous, trying to get a rise out of him, and had basically just thrown his own honesty back in his face. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s…” Elliot scratched his eyebrow, pushed his glasses up his nose, rallying. “It’s good you told me.”
“You said you did it, too.”
He cleared his throat, nodded sternly. “It’s normal for guys my age.”
“So it’s not normal for girls?”
With a cough, he managed, “Of course it is. I just meant —”
“I’m joking.” I closed my eyes for a breath, working to get my own craziness back under control. What was with me?
“What did you think about?” The last word of his came out sticky, caught in a slightly strangled voice.
I stared at him. “I thought, ‘Holy hell, this is amazing.’”
He laughed, but it was awkward and high-pitched. “No. Before. During.”
I shrugged. “Being touched by someone else like that. Do you still think about dragons?”
His eyes flickered over every part of me all at once. “No,” he said, not laughing at my joke even a little. “I think about… wrists and ears, and skin and legs. Girl parts. Girls.” His words all ran together and it took me a beat to separate them.
Girls? My blood heated with jealousy.
“Any girls in particular?”
He opened a book, thumbed a page. He held still like he did when he omitted information. “Sometimes.”
That was the end of the conversation. He didn’t ask me anything else and didn’t offer more.
saturday, october 14
’m conscious that Elliot and I are in a bit of a social fishbowl, with Sabrina and Nikki clearly tracking how much time we spend orbiting each other. So, despite feeling constantly aware of him, I don’t really speak to Elliot much at the picnic and it makes me crazy, wondering what he’s thinking about all of this. He spends most of his time talking to Danny, while Nikki, Sabrina, Dave, and I catch up. I get the distinct impression that once Sabrina and Dave get time alone in the car on the way back they’re going to explode in exasperated agreement that Sean is Really The Most Boring.
Based on my own observations, though, I can’t really blame them. Sean is tuned in to Phoebe, but is otherwise fucking around on his phone, or jumping into conversations only to add his thoughts before ducking back out again. I have this weird, bubbling awareness that I’ve never been in this situation with him before – sitting with a group of my friends, rather than a group of art enthusiasts or benefactors dying to get Sean Chen’s attention. And apparently, unless he’s being courted, he retreats, socially. I have a niggling fear that he’s always been this way, it’s just never come up, because we’ve never hung out with friends.
Does Sean even have friends?
Around four, the clouds roll in and it looks like it might rain. Because California is turning into a dustbowl, we clean up happily, as if we are a bunch of busybody relatives getting out of the way for some newlyweds staying over.
Sean carries Phoebe on his shoulders toward the parking lot, and I follow just behind, with Sabrina, pushing Viv in the stroller.
“You have to admit that’s pretty cute,” I tell her, lifting my chin to the duo in front of us. The stab of protectiveness I felt for him earlier has morphed into a strange sense of desperation. Sean and I are a great fit; we were before Elliot, and we are now. I’m hunting for evidence. My fondness for the sight of him and Phoebe is proof.
My appreciation of his ass in those jeans is proof.
She laughs. “He seems like a really great dad.”
Sigh. “Message received.”
Keeping her voice down so others can’t hear us, Sabrina says, “We need to have a serious conversation about this. An intervention.”
“Don’t start.”
“When have I ever talked you out of a relationship?” she say, eyes wide. “Doesn’t that carry some weight?”
I open my mouth to answer when out of the corner of my eye I realize that Elliot is only a few paces behind us, and has probably heard every word.
I give him a knowing look. “Hey.”
He’s been studying something on his phone, but it’s all a ruse. Elliot is about as interested in dicking around on an iPhone as he is in sticking a spoon in his ear. He catches up with two long steps and comes between us, putting an arm around our shoulders. “Ladies.”
“You heard every word of that, didn’t you?” I ask.
He slants his eyes to me, shrugging. “Yes.”
This makes him laugh. “I was coming up to thank you for inviting me. It wasn’t like I was hoping to catch you discussing Sean.” In a quieter voice, laden with meaning, he mumbles, “Trust me.”
“The honesty here is a little disarming,” Sabrina interjects. “I’m not sure if I should make an awkward getaway or stay and hear more.” She pauses. “I really want to hear more.”
“It’s always been that way with us,” I tell her.
“It’s true,” Elliot says. “We’ve never been very good at lying to each other. When I was fifteen, Macy told me to change my deodorant. She hinted that the old one might not be working anymore.”
“Elliot pointed out the specific day he noticed I was getting boobs.”
Sabrina stares at us.
“I made Elliot bring Imodium with us when we went to see the Backstreet Boys, because I was having tummy troubles.”
“The embarrassing part of that,” he says, “is that I went to see Backstreet Boys.”
“No,” I correct him, “the embarrassing part was that I caught you dancing.”
He acknowledges this with a little flicker of his eyebrows. “I had moves.”
I laugh. “Yes. Movement is the only way to describe what you were doing.”
Sabrina snorts at us and, when Dave calls to her, jogs ahead, but Elliot stops me with a hand on my arm, and we get a few curious glances as the rest of the group passes us on their way to the parking lot. Luckily, Sean and Phoebe are still ahead of us.
“Hey. So.” Elliot tucks his hands into his pockets. His shoulders rise, pressing into his neck. He is still so angular, so long.
“Hey. So,” I repeat.
“Thanks for inviting me today.” He gives me this smile that I don’t know I can describe. It’s the smile that says, I know we’ve known each other forever, but it still means the world to me that you included me here. How he does that with a simple curve of his lips and some eye contact, I’ll never know.
“Well,” I tell him, “you should probably know that I hosted this entire thing so that I could invite you to meet my friends.” Only when I say it out loud do I realize it’s true. This is what Elliot does to me: he pulls honesty from those scrambled parts of my brain.
His eyes narrow, irises blooming as his pupils become pinpoints in the dim light beneath the clouds. “Is that true?”
“Why did you pull me back?” I ask him instead. I don’t even know what I want him to say here. How will I feel if he says that he’s come to his senses and realizes that I’m right, that we can only be friends? A treasonous part of me hopes I don’t find out.