Love and Other Words
by Christina Lauren
Macy met him in a closet.
Standing precariously on the cusp of an adolescence that was already feeling strained and uncomfortable, Macy Sorenson didn’t want to be where she was at that particular moment in time. The awkward and dark home her father deemed appropriate for weekend vacationing didn’t feel like a home at all, it felt like a dungeon. The fact that he’d only wanted to buy the place based upon one of her mom’s rules only served to make the place even more stark and cold; there was no emotion in the purchase save the ones wrapped up in the knowledge that this was a house her mother would never see or know or make her own.
Rule #25 in The Dead Mom’s Handbook to Raising Teenage Girls:
“When Macy looks so third after school that she can’t even form a sentence, take her away from the stress of her life. Find a weekend getaway that is easy and close that lets her breathe a little.”
And so he did.
Dad had followed every rule on the list her mother gave to him, a list given before her body succumbed to cancer. He’d faithfully followed them all to a tee thus far, using his dead wife’s words as a guiding light, so why stop now? Her father had spent years researching the best place to get away to; the best destination for some proper rest and relaxation. A place not too far from home in Berkley, but somewhere that would feel completely out of the way and foreign. A place where Macy could find solace and perhaps some quiet healing.
But do you ever really heal from the wounds set upon the heart? Scars may grow and cover the gaping holes, but they leave with it a toughened state of being. Rough and unsettled.
The house was creaky and needed work, but it had that closet. A closet she could turn into a library, filling it with the books that her mother made her father promise to spoil her with, and right at that moment – it also contained a boy.
Elliot Petropolous, the not-so-quintessential literal boy next door. He was all angles and edges, full to the brim with literary quotes and a disarming sense of honesty and honor. He grew up in a house full of people, and needed his own place to get away. He’d found it in the closet of the empty house next door, and when she opened the closet that day and he saw her staring down at him with a look of unbridled surprise, he felt something tug in the inner corners of his own heart.
The next few summers were spent laying on the floor of the closet-turned-library, the two of them ready companions who allowed themselves to be wrapped up in the adventures of Ivanhoe and the exploits of Robin Hood. Between chapters and and paragraphs about merry men and dragons, the two delved into every facet of one another’s lives . . . nothing was off limits or taboo; the closet was a place where anything could be discussed and where questions could be answered. It was a place where Macy could slice the sutures of her mended heart open and lay them raw and angry, allowing Elliot the chance to sew them back together with tenderness and understanding. Elliot did what no one else in Macy’s life could – he filled the gaps of her very soul, providing an instinctual lubrication consisting of blind acceptance and comfort, of loyalty and a deeply rooted love that was more than love. It was in fact, everything.
What’s your favorite word today, Macy?
Modern-day Macy has no Elliot to brace the falls she takes as she trips and tumbles through adulthood. What she does have are a couple of old friends from high school and college she meet up with on random afternoons when she’s not on rounds at the hospital, a place where she’s working on her pediatric residency and is surrounded by sick children and basket-case parents. She has her boyfriend Sean – scratch that – fiancé; an artist with whom she spends the few hours a night she gets to sleep, hours somewhere between 4 and 7 am, along with a few breakfast meetings a week with his young daughter over Cheerios and orange juice at the dining room table they share in their cozy apartment. She wasn’t sure how it had all happened; one moment she was going on a date with this handsome artist and the next, she was moving in. Less than six months later they were engaged and she supposed she should begin planning that wedding. But . . .
What she doesn’t have – Elliot, her mom, Dad – those things echo like the metal chasms in an abandoned ship run into shore and left to rot; each pulse a painful reminder of the emptiness that resides inside of her no matter what she has tried to fill it with. Nothing can replace the fragments of your soul once they have been ripped from you and scattered to the wind.
One morning over a cup of coffee, while in the midst of a melancholy catch-up session with one of her best friends, Macy looks up from bouncing Sabrina’s baby daughter on her knee and sees him. Elliot. In the actual flesh. His back is to her as he makes his order at the counter, speaking precious words to a barista who doesn’t realize she should be treasuring every utterance the man in front of her is gifting her with. But Macy knows. It’s as if she can feel the very essence that is Elliot; she doesn’t even need to see his face to know it’s him . . . and that fact is somehow comforting; that after 10+ years of a life without someone she once considered her soulmate, she can recognize him just by the very way he holds himself. By the shuffle of his feet as he considers the menu. By the tug on his ear with long fingers and strong hands.
And so when he turns around, the only natural thing for Macy to do is . . . try and hide.
But just as she could sense him, the role also works in reverse. Confronted with her past for the first time in over a decade leaves Macy wrapped in the midst of all things overwhelming and difficult. Elliot re-entering her closely curated life is bringing with it a suitcase full of emotions she has worked so hard to pack away and hide in the darkest corner of her heart’s attic. For with Elliot in her life again, as he has so insisted he will be, Macy must finally face what drove them apart to begin with.
A story told equally in the Then and the Now, Love and Other Words explores first love and the loss of it in a way that is unique and spellbinding. The story is not necessarily coming of age and friendship but rather a building of keystone. To say it is a romance is to cheapen the experience of the this exceptional novel; it is a story of love written in its purest and most innocent form.
When I saw the newest novel by the dynamic duo that is Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings come up for galley, I jumped on it. I read Roomies last year, and fell absolutely head-0ver-heels in love with both their writing style and their character’s personalities. The way these two write is so relatable but it’s more than that – you can actually picture yourself in the same shoes as the person you are reading about. The storylines in both novels I’ve read from them are so true to life that it is uncanny. They have a way of capturing real moments and real feelings in a way that is quite frankly, rare to find in the modern-day world of what is considered a chick-lit or romance novel.
The story is romantic, yes – but . . . it is so complex. Macy is reeling emotionally from the loss of her mother and she finds this boy, this savior . . . but he doesn’t set out to be her knight in shining armor. Instead, Elliot just wants to be her friend. He listens to her, he allows her to be who she is in her rawest form, and in doing that for her, he gives her permission to work through her feelings and come out the other side feeling normal. They are brutally honest with one another and I tell you, it tugged so hard on my own heartstrings that at times, this book was difficult to read. We have all been there – that first love – and those feelings may fade with maturity and time, but that initial rush of love is something that settles within your being for the rest of your life.
The Macy of adulthood is just as complicated and is dealing with a new set of issues. The way the story progressed and laid itself out was perfectly brilliant, a slow and steady melody that came to a booming crescendo at a wedding in a garden that left me breathless and weeping. Yes, I admit it – I cried like a little baby the last quarter of this book. It was like the entirety of the first 3/4 of it had my nerve-endings spiked and electric, and when things finally began to come to light and I was being led down the other side of the mountain, my emotions just broke like a dam.
I have to give this novel 5 out of 5 stars. It deserves nothing less. It was amazing. I loved it.
Loved – loved -loved.