“You okay?” he whispered. Footsteps echoed down the long upstairs hallway.

“Yeah.” I stood on weak, shaky legs to find my shirt, tug it on, and shove my bra under a pillow with my foot just as Dad walked in.

He paused in the doorway, taking in the scene. Elliot, having launched himself onto the pillows in the corner, was reading my worn copy of The Joy Luck Club without his glasses on. His face was red, his breathing uneven. I stood near the door, and realized I had no idea what my hair looked like, but I imagined it could not be good. Elliot had dug his fingers into it, pulled apart my braid, and slid his hands over and into my hair again and again.

My body bucked with the memory.

Dad looked me over and smirked.

“Hey,” I said.

And to his credit, he simply replied, “Hey, guys.”

“What’s up?” I asked, trying not to gasp for air.

“Mace, sweetheart, I’m sorry, but do you think you could be ready to go in an hour? I just had to run into town to get a fax, of all things. We need to get back tonight.” He looked genuinely apologetic.

We have two more nights here, I thought, but even as crushing disappointment spread through me, I nodded brightly. “No problem, Dad.”

He waved to Elliot, who waved back, and then left.

Slowly, I turned. Elliot’s eyes were closed, his hands over his face as he finally gasped for air, no longer needing to appear relaxed.

I moved to him, crawling into his lap, desperately wanting the feel of him against me.

“Holy shit, that was close,” he whispered.

I nodded. I didn’t want to leave. Adrenaline crashed through me, making my limbs shake. I wanted to curl up with him and talk about what we’d just done.

He turned his head, kissing my temple. “You were bleeding. I know it’s… normal, but I just want to be sure: Did I hurt you?”

I looked up at the ceiling, trying to find an answer that felt both true and reassuring. “Not more than I expected.”

His lips found mine. Slow, careful kisses dotted over my mouth, my chin, my cheeks.

“You need to pack,” he said reluctantly, pulling away.

“Yeah.”

He stood, lifting me with him and then put me down. “Email me tonight?”

I nodded. I was still shaking. Because of what we’d done… and because we almost just got caught doing it.

He cupped my face in both hands, searching my eyes. “Was it… okay?”

“Yeah.” I bit back a nervous laugh. “I mean… I definitely want to do it again.” The adrenaline was making me feel speedy and wired.

“Okay.” He nodded frantically. “Okay, so we’ll talk? You’re okay?”

“Yeah.” I smiled. “You?”

He blew out a controlled breath. “I’m going to go home and take a long shower and relive all but the minute your dad was standing there and I was still sort of hard.”

I leaned against him, my forehead to his chest. “I don’t want to go.”

His lips rested on the crown of my head. “I know.”

“Did we just have sex?” I asked quietly.

With his thumbs, he tilted my face so I’d look up at him. “Yeah. We did.”

He leaned forward, kissed me once, twice, softly on the lips and then a third, deep kiss. Finally he pulled away, kissed the tip of my nose, and ducked out of the closet.

And I thought, as I heard his footsteps jogging down the stairs, how strange and wonderful it was that we had never said I love you. And we hadn’t needed to.

now

sunday, december 31


D

espite being born to the same parents, and raised in the same house, Andreas and I could not have been more different,” Elliot says, opening his wedding toast and sliding one hand into the pocket of his tuxedo pants. He stands at the front of the expanse of tables and flowers and candlelight, a tiny grin working at his mouth.

“I was studious, he was…” Elliot scratches his eyebrow. “Well, he was athletic.”

The guests laugh knowingly.

“I was obsessive, he was slovenly.” Another appreciative rumble. “I learned Latin; he primarily communicated in grunts and frowns.” At this, I join in the genuine laughter. “But anyone who knows us knows we have one important thing in common.” Elliot glances briefly down to me, sidelong, almost as if he can’t help himself, and then back over to Andreas. “When we love, we love for good.”

An emotional murmur ripples across the room, and my heart dissolves into a puddle of warm honey.

“Andreas met Else when he was twenty-eight. Sure, he’d had girlfriends before, but nothing like this. He walked into Mom and Dad’s house one Saturday and looked physically windblown. Eyes wide, mouth agape, Andreas had lost the ability to speak in his normal, very basic vocabulary.” Laughter rises up again, jubilant. “He brought her home for dinner, and you would think he’d invited the queen of England.” Elliot smiled at his mother. “He nagged Mom about what she’d cook. He nagged Dad about not having the Niners game on the whole time. He nagged me about not doing something weird like quoting Kafka or performing magic tricks with my green beans. For a man who’d never voluntarily cleaned his own bedroom, this meticulous behavior was notable.”

My smile spreads wide across my face; a giddy, lovesick fault line.

“And he’s been as attentive, and loyal, and devoted for each day since. For four years I’ve watched you fall more deeply in love. To say that Else is well-suited for Andreas is an understatement. Apparently she loves meatheads.” Laughter. “And apparently she also liked us well enough.”

Elliot lifts his glass, smiling warmly down at his brother and new sister-in-law. “Else, welcome to our family. I can’t promise that it will ever be quiet, but I can promise that you will never be so loved as when you come home to us.”

Cheers ring out, glasses clink. Elliot bends to hug them both, and then returns to his seat beside me.

Beneath the table, he takes my hand. His is shaking.

“That was awesome,” I tell him.

He bends, smiling as he takes a bite of his salmon with his free hand. “Yeah?”

I lean over, press my lips to his cheek. His skin is warm and a little rough now, like the mildest sandpaper. It’s all I can do to not bare my teeth and bite him the tiniest bit. “Yeah.”

When my lips come away from him, they’ve left twin petals of lipstick. I reach up, reluctantly smearing it away with my thumb. I sort of liked it there. Elliot continues to eat, smiling at me as I fuss over him, and never in my entire life have I felt so blissfully like someone’s wife.

The feeling is bubbly, like being drunk from a shot – the way it warms the path from throat to stomach. But here, everything feels warm. I pull his hand in mine closer, onto my lap, high on my thigh. He pauses with his fork en route to his mouth, sending me a sly smile, but then takes the bite and chews, leaning to his left to listen when Andreas taps his shoulder.

The music begins for the first dance, and Andreas and Else stand, moving out into the center of the room, dancing solo for only a few bars before the DJ calls everyone out. And then Miss Dina and Mr. Nick are out there, and then Else’s parents, too. Elliot looks over at me, eyebrow raised in obvious question… and here we go.

He leads me to a spot near the center of the dance floor, pulling me with an arm around my waist until I’m right up against him: chest to chest, stomach to stomach, hips to hips.

We sway. We’re not even really dancing. But our proximity sets my body on fire, and I can feel what it does to him, too. Right up against me, he’s half-hard, his posture exposing the hunger he feels.

I want closer, too. With one hand clasped in his, the other on his shoulder slides around his neck, then – slowly – into his hair. Elliot tucks our joined hands against his chest and then bends, pressing his cheek to mine.

“I love you,” he says. “I’m sorry that I can’t help my body’s reaction to you.”

“It’s okay.” I count out fifteen heartbeats before I’m able to add, “I love you, too.”

He reacts to this with a tiny catch in his breath, a slight tremor in his shoulders – it’s the first time he’s ever heard me say it.

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