Author's Notes: I love Eliot Spencer so much that there are LITERALLY NO WORDS.
good night, good night!
good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow
that i should say goodnight 'till it is morrow.
The first time that Eliot Spencer tells her he'll be back in three weeks, he comes home in two. He has a scar behind his left ear and a shit-eating grin that says he missed her, and Amy's so glad to have him back that it doesn't bother her when he uses one-word answers. The first night he's home he makes her a dinner so good she wants to weep while she eats it, and afterwards touches her with hands that shake.
He'd got the job through a buddy, apparently just some bodyguard work some businessman needed done overseas. It had seemed easy enough, good money at the least. They'd both thought it seemed like a good idea.
She laughs, hand cupping his cheek, and ruffles his hair. He keeps it short, almost shaved, but she likes the way it bristles against her palm. "What's with you tonight? Are you cheating on me?" she asks jokingly.
He just grins and looks at her the way he had when they were thirteen and he'd asked with bumbling lips and flushed cheeks if he could kiss her, just once. ("Once and fifteen years," her father will say when she tells him the story four years from now.) They make love on the couch because the bedroom seems too far away, and in the morning Amy jokes, impressed, "You should go away more often if you're always going to miss me this much."
"I'll remember you said that," he says.
She loses her job that May after she punches out a grabby customer at the restaurant where she waits tables. And it's great to be a strong, independent woman not willing to take any shit . . . until she can't get hired anywhere else and her tuition goes up $5,000 per semester. Her Dad offers to pay the difference, but he's already got two mortgages on the farm and is still paying off the medical bills from her mom's cancer; and anyway, Amy would rather drop out than take someone else's money, even family.
"I could take another job," Eliot says over dinner as she tells him she's considering putting her last semester on hold.
"I'm not taking your money, Eliot," she replies instantly.
He gives her a look she's gotten used to over the past nine years, one that says he loves her and that she's an idiot. "It's not my money, darlin'," he tells her, reaching across the table to take her hand and run his thumb over his promise ring. "This ring? Means it's our money."
She softens, and he kisses her, and a month later he's on his way out the door. Three weeks, he promises. He leaves enough food in the fridge so that she doesn't have to cook for a week, and Amy tries not to feel like her tuition is just an excuse.
When he gets back exactly twenty-one days later, it's with a check he doesn't let her get a good look at and split knuckles on both hands. When she asks, he laughingly tells her that he fought the law and the law cried like a baby when he was done with it, which she assumes is a joke until the news starts talking about a military coup in Azerbaijan.
Of course that's not Eliot, who moved in next-door when she was ten; Eliot, who threw the championship-winning pass when they were seniors in high school; Eliot, who threw up the first time he saw a horse give birth.
"So where'd they send you?" she asks casually over spaghetti a week later.
He shrugs. "Oh, you know. One of the 'stans. I can never keep them all straight."
She kicks him under the table. "Seriously."
Eliot sighs and puts down his fork. He looks up slowly, like he isn't sure what he's going to say. "Amy, I love you," he tells her. "I don't ever want to lie to you about anything."
The seriousness in his tone takes her by surprise; she sits back in her chair. "What about who hired you? Can you at least tell me whose money is paying for my college education?"
"Our money. Ours," he says firmly. "Look, darlin', I told you. Some private contractors just needed an extra set of hands."
She wants to push more, because no answers are worse than bad answers, but she doesn't. Eliot loves her. That's enough, for now.
The third time, he doesn't even say goodbye; his suitcase is missing from the hall closet when she gets home to their apartment and there's a note on the fridge that says the call was last minute and that he's asked Mrs. Shonan next door to make sure she eats. It's signed see you in three weeks.
A month later, she wakes up at four A.M. to find him crawling into bed, and he startles her so badly that she accidentally gives him a bloody nose. He just chuckles, eyes crinkled around the corner, happy to see her as she holds an ice pack to his face.
"You could have at least waited to say goodbye," she scolds, all the anger that had been building for the past thirty-two days draining away at the sight of him. There are bruises on his neck, dark and angry, which he brushes off as wounds from a bar fight. Out of loyalty, Amy tries to make herself believe him.
"I know you don't like it when I take these jobs," he tells her, six days before the fifth time, "but I wanted you to see why I do it."
They're in his truck, Amy with her feet on the dash and Eliot wearing the stupid aviator sunglasses he refuses to throw out. They pull into the driveway of the house she'd picked out when they were nine as the one that they would live in.
"You go away so that we can look at this house?"
He shakes his head and grins, reaching into his back pocket and tossing her a set of keys. "No," he says, "I go away so we can live in this house."
Amy stares dumbly at him for a minute and then screams, hitting him hard on the arm and then throwing herself at his mouth, climbing over the cup holder to straddle him. "You are such a little shit!" she cries, pressing her lips to every inch of skin on his face. "Eliot! I can't believe you did this!"
He's beaming at her as he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "One more job, Amy. One more and we can buy this place without having to mortgage it, without loans, without anything. Just one more. Then I'll be done. Three more weeks, that's all."
She believes him.
But of course after the fifth job there is a sixth job, one he "has to take" because he "owes a favor" and it's "a matter of my word." As usual, he promises three weeks, but he's gone almost two months and only manages to call twice. The new house is big and perfect and lonely without the both of them in it, so Amy stays at her Dad's.
"It's not trouble with Eliot, exactly," she tells her father. "It's everything else."
When he gets back, Eliot doesn't even say hello, just drops his back and sweeps her up into his arms, kissing her so hard she thinks her mouth is going to bruise. "I'm sorry I'm late," he breathes against her lips, and she shakes her head, dazed, no don't stop we'll talk later.
And they do talk later, so loud and so furiously that the neighbors call and ask if there's a problem. "Yeah, there's a problem," Amy spits. "This jackass can't count to three!"
Eliot shakes his head and rubs a hand over his hair. He's started to grow it out. "Amy. I told you. There were complications and I couldn't get to a—"
"Phone? Computer? Piece of paper and a stamp? Jesus, Eliot, where were you that there wasn't a single internet café?" He gets that look, the I-love-you-I-don't-want-to-lie-to-you look, and she cuts him off with a disgusted shake of her head. "Oh, right. Tell me and you'll have to kill me."
His eyes are soft and sorry. "It's not like that."
"It's exactly like that."
She doesn't go back to her father's, but she makes Eliot sleep on the couch. In the morning, he makes her pancakes and apologizes. "Please try to understand," he begs softly, threading his fingers through her hair. "I'm good at this, Ames. I like it and I'm good at it. Really good."
Amy sighs. "Is it at least legal?" she asks. "Private contractors, super-secret business, bruises. What you're doing is legal, right?"
Eliot hesitates for a second then kisses the top of her head. "Of course it's legal," he promises.
After two years and ten "three weeks," Amy asks about the wedding. She's never been much of a girly-girl, and at the time of the promising had accepted the ring because she knew how much ceremony and tradition meant to Eliot and her father, rather than any desire to buy an overpriced dress and make her best friends look like silk mangos in their gowns, but now the promise is burning a hole in her skin every time he disappears.
"No more jobs after the wedding," she says flatly, eying him carefully across the table. "I'm serious, Eliot. Once we're married, I don't want you dashing off for months at a time anymore. Do you still want to do this?"
It's an out, though if she's honest she's only offering because she's sure he won't take it. But when the time comes, she wants to be able to remind him of this moment.
"Of course I do," he assures her.
Then, ten days later: "but maybe we could wait. Just a couple more years. We're not ready for this, Amy. It's not a matter of how we feel, it's just—our financials—and your Dad's farm—and I know you want to think about grad school. We can't afford it now, but if I keep taking these jobs then soon . . . "
And the thing is, Amy knows that this is an excuse, that what he wants isn't necessarily to delay the wedding but to delay having to quit; but to be honest, the whole idea of marriage makes her feel a little queasy and cagey, so she lets it slide, grabs the same excuses he does. "But when the time is right, and we do this, you'll quit," she half-asks, half-tells him.
"When the time is right," he agrees.
He starts getting jumpy. For the most part Amy pretends not to notice (she's pretending not to notice a lot of things, these days). When they go out to new places, he wears his caps low on his face, he starts carrying a knife in his boot at all times, and sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and he's in the garage hitting the punching bag her father got him for his twentieth birthday.
He starts growing his hair out. They tease him, calling him a hippie, and he laughs like he's in on the joke. "I don't even recognize you anymore," she says with a laugh, tugging at a strand, and he gets the cagey look in his eye she's getting used to.
"Kinda the point," he murmurs.
Nowadays when he says three weeks she knows not to expect him for three months, sometimes more. Amy can always tell when he's gotten a new job, because he seems lighter, breezier, happier. More like himself as the leaving is gets easier and the coming back gets hard.
He's on one of his "three week" excursions when she sees the check for the first time. It comes in the mail. Usually he brings them home, but for whatever reason this one comes by post. It's written out to Eliot Spencer and is signed from a Damien Monroe. Nothing particularly remarkable except that it's a check for two hundred thousand dollars.
Amy's heart stops and for a moment she doesn't move; she gets from the mailbox to his office without realizing that she's moving, and the next thing she knows she's rummaging through the draws, the cabinets, the vents where he hides things.
And there it is, tucked innocuously into the bookshelf: his financial ledger. Eliot's always been organized.
She counts the zeros in his balance and then goes out and gets so shit-faced that she never fully remembers what happens between the hours of twelve and three o'clock.
"Millions," she screams at him, hurling the nearest object she can find (which happens to be a mug). She doesn't know if it's more frightening that he doesn't flinch or that he snatches it out of the air like it's nothing. "We—you—we have millions of dollars, Eliot, we are millionaires and you didn't think to tell me?"
He puts the mug on the counter and approaches her slowly, like you would a spooked filly. "I didn't think it was important," he murmurs soothingly, reaching out his hands. "To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention, I just deposit the checks and that's that."
She takes a deep, swallowing breath and tries to steady her hands. Really, she should be happy about this. And she is, on some level.
But on another level she feels . . . betrayed. Lied to. And less than. She makes $8.00 waitressing, riding professionally on the weekends when she can, and Eliot has made more than two million dollars in the past four years.
"I don't know anything about you anymore," she hears herself say, and then hates it because she sounds like a bad romance film. "I don't know what you do, I don't know who you work for, I only accidentally found out how much money you make—"
"I'm the same person," he tells her quietly.
"Oh, Eliot," she murmurs, "cut the bullshit."
He meets her eyes and his hands drop down to his pockets. "I still love you," he amends.
Amy laughs, almost deliriously, leaning all her weight onto the counter. She has this absurd vision of Eliot in his high school letterman jacket, awkwardly shoving his senior ring at her. She'd thought she'd known him better than anyone, better than she knew herself. Better than he knew himself.
She pushes roughly past him on her way to the door. "Where are you going?" he asks softly, hurt.
"See how you like being the one who doesn't know," she spits out nastily, bitter.
By the time she comes back the house is empty and Eliot's stuff is gone and it hits her that he's gone, that the son of a bitch had the nerve to leave just because she was angry. She's called Eliot Spencer a lot of things but never a coward.
When he doesn't call the next day and there's no record of him in any of the local hotels, Amy ceremoniously declares them broken up, and goes to the next town to get laid. She picks a dark-haired man in a charcoal suit, the exact opposite of the man whose ring she is still wearing on her finger, and they spend the long weekend in bed drinking beer. The sex is good. He gives her his card and asks to see her again.
She doesn't call him for three weeks, and when Eliot doesn't come home she sets up a dinner date. It goes well and he kisses her on her doorstep; when she invites him up, he says, "No ma'am, thank you. I'm going to do this right."
She puts him off another three weeks, but Eliot doesn't show so she goes out again, and then again, and then again, and after two-and-a-half months they're semi-serious and he's starting to ask about all the men's clothing in her house.
So she tells him the truth, about the boy she's known since she was in middle school who gave her a promise ring and then suddenly got sucked into an abyss she didn't even know was there until he was gone.
"Do you still love him?" he asks quietly.
"Yes," she answers, as truthfully as she can. "I just don't know if that matters anymore."
Three days later, Eliot is back, this time with an eye that's swelled shut and a split lip. He stands awkwardly in the foyer, shifting his weight from foot to foot while she looks at him.
"You're back," she notes.
"I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye."
"It's fine. I've been sleeping with another man. He's an investment banker."
Eliot's face shifts in an instant from careful nervousness to a stone wall. His mouth tightens and Amy's fingers curl up into her palm. She's not sure if she wants to hit him or herself. "I see."
"You were gone," she says weakly. "And I was . . . so mad. And it just sort of snowballed."
"Snowballed," he repeats. "Snowballed? Jesus, Amy—"
"Don't you 'Jesus' me!" she interrupts, deciding that anger is the best way to go here because she's too ashamed and guilty and sad to bear to be anything else. "Four years ago another man couldn't have pried me away for a million dollars, and now here we are and I see you less than I sleep alone and you won't tell me anything about your life, and Jesus, you don't even want to be here."
He closes his eyes. "Amy. That's not . . ." he trails off and she simply looks at him, because it is true and they both know it. Maybe he still loves her; maybe he even still wants to marry her. But he wants something else more.
"Look," she tells him quietly. "Take some time. Figure out what you want. If you come back and you want to go straight and marry me, I'll do it and we'll never talk about it again. But if you aren't back here in three weeks—and I mean three weeks, Eliot, not two months or four months or six months—then I'm going ahead with this thing."
He step forward and takes her face in his hands, kissing her with the same passion and care that he used to. "I love you," he murmurs.
She reaches up to trace the bruise beneath his eye. "Oh, honey, I know," she whispers, and kisses him back.
Three weeks later, she tells the man in the charcoal suit that she's made her choice and it's not the man who's never home. She sends a wedding invitation via email to Eliot, though he's terrible with computers so she's not sure if she gets it.
It takes two months to plan, but it's beautiful. As her Daddy walks her down the aisle he says quietly, wonderingly, "Y'know, babygirl, I always thought I'd be givin' you to Eliot."
"So did I, Daddy," she agrees, "but life don't always work out the way we think it will."
After the I Do and the kiss and the rice, she turns to look out of the back window of the just married car and sees him, standing in the crowd with his stupid long hair and his hands in his pockets. He lifts a hand to his ear and her phone vibrates in her purse.
She takes a deep breath before picking up. "Hello?"
His voice is low and gravelly, the way it always is when he's pretending not to have emotions. "I'm sorry I'm late," he says. "I tried to be back sooner but something . . . came up."
"Yeah," she answers. "I figured."
"I hope that you're . . . I mean, I hope that you . . . just . . . be happy, Amy. Okay?" She nods, forgetting that he can't see her, and sniffs into her hand. "I've gotta go. I have a plane to catch."
He laughs a little, sadly. "I'll be back in three weeks," he promises, and hangs up.
Amy reaches across the seat and takes her husband's hand. "Who was that?" he asks.
"It doesn't matter," she replies.