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“Teenagers are the same all over. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”
“Is that a no?” I ask.
She laughs at me.
Two Hours Later
I try again. “It would only be for half an hour. He could get decontaminated like Mr. Waterman and then—”
“Are you crazy?”
Ten Minutes After That
She cuts me off. “And here I thought you were doing fine.”
“I am. I am doing fine. I just want to meet him—”
“We can’t always get what we want,” she says. From the flatness of her tone alone, I know it’s a phrase she uses on Rosa all the time. I can tell she regrets saying it to me, but still she doesn’t say anything else.
She’s leaving for the day, halfway out my bedroom door when she stops. “You know I don’t like saying no to you. You’re a good girl.”
I rush right through this opening. “He’d get decontaminated and sit across the room, far, far away from me and only for fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes at the most.”
She shakes her head, but it’s not a firm shake. “It’s too risky. And your mother would never allow it.”
“We won’t tell her,” I say instantly.
She gives me a sharp, disappointed look. “Do you girls really find it so easy to lie to your mamas?”
To Those Who Wait
Carla doesn’t say anything about it again until just after lunch two days later.
“Now. You listen to me,” she says. “No touching. You stay on your side of the room and he stays on his. I already told him the same thing.”
I understand the words she’s saying, but I don’t understand what she’s saying.
“What do you mean? You mean he’s here? He’s already here?”
“You stay on your side and he stays on his. No touching. You understand?”
I don’t, but I nod yes anyway.
“He’s waiting for you in the sunroom.”
The look on her face says what do you take me for?
I stand up, sit down, and stand up again.
“Oh, Lordy,” she says. “Go fix yourself up fast. I’m only giving you twenty minutes.”
My stomach doesn’t just flip, it does high-wire somersaults without a net. “What made you change your mind?”
She comes over, takes my chin in her hand, and stares into my eyes for such a long time that I start to fidget. I can see her sorting through all she wants to say.
In the end all she says is: “You deserve a little something.”
This is how Rosa gets everything she wants. She simply asks for it from her mother with the too-big heart.
I head to the mirror to “fix myself.” I’ve almost forgotten what I look like. I don’t spend a lot of time looking. There’s no need when there’s no one to see you. I like to think that I’m an exact fifty-fifty mixture of my mom and dad. My warm brown skin is what you get by mixing her pale olive skin with his richer dark brown. My hair is big and long and wavy, not as curly as his, but not as straight as hers. Even my eyes are a perfect blend—neither Asian nor African but somewhere in between.
I look away and then look back quickly, trying to catch myself unawares to get a more accurate picture, trying to see what Olly will see. I try out a laugh and then smile, with teeth and without. I even try out a frown, though I’m hoping I won’t have cause to use it.
Carla watches my antics in the mirror amused and bemused at the same time.
“I almost remember when I was your age,” she says.
I don’t turn around, talking instead to the Carla in the mirror. “Are you sure about this? You don’t think it’s too risky anymore?”
“You trying to talk me out of it?” She comes over and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Everything’s a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.”
I look around my white room at my white couch and shelves, my white walls, all of it safe and familiar and unchanging.
I think of Olly, decontamination-cold and waiting for me. He’s the opposite of all these things. He’s not safe. He’s not familiar. He’s in constant motion.
He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.
From: Madeline F. Whittier
To: [email protected]
Subject: Future Perfect
Sent: July 10, 12:30 PM
By the time you read this we will have met. It will have been perfect.
The sunroom is my favorite room in the house. It’s almost all glass—glass roof and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look out onto our perfectly manicured back lawn.
The room’s decor is like a movie set of a tropical rain forest. It’s filled with realistic and lush-looking fake tropical plants. Banana and coconut trees laden with fake fruit and hibiscus plants with fake flowers are everywhere. There’s even a babbling stream that snakes its way through the room, but there are no fish—at least no real ones. The furniture is aged white wicker that looks like it’s been sitting in the sun. Because it’s meant to be tropical, my mom keeps a heated fan running and a slightly too-warm breeze fills the room.
Most days I love it because I can imagine that the glass has fallen away and I’m Outside. Other days I feel like a fish in an aquarium.