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Friends are allowed to touch, right?
I disentangle my finger so that I can entangle all the others until our palms are pressed against each other.
I look back up to his eyes and see my reflection there. “What do you see?” I ask.
“Well, the first thing is those freckles.”
“Slightly. It looks like someone sprinkled chocolate across your nose and cheeks.” His eyes travel down to my lips and back up to my eyes. “Your lips are pink and they get pinker when you chew on them. You chew on them more when you’re about to disagree with me. You should do that less. The disagreeing, not the chewing. The chewing is adorable.”
I should say something, stop him, but I can’t speak.
“I’ve never seen anyone with hair as long and poofy and curly as yours it. It looks like a cloud.”
“If clouds were brown,” I say, finally finding my voice, trying to break the spell.
“Yes, curly brown clouds. And then your eyes. I swear they change color. Sometimes they’re almost black. Sometimes they’re brown. I’m trying to find a correlation between the color and your mood, but I don’t have it yet. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Correlation is not causation,” I say, just to have something to say.
He grins and squeezes my hand. “What do you see?”
I want to answer, but I find that I can’t. I shake my head and look back down at our hands.
We remain that way, sliding between certainty and uncertainty and back again until we hear Carla’s approach and are forced to part.
I am made. I am unmade.
I read once that, on average, we replace the majority of our cells every seven years. Even more amazing: we change the upper layers of our skin every two weeks. If all the cells in our body did this, we’d be immortal. But some of our cells, like the ones in our brains, don’t renew. They age, and age us.
In two weeks my skin will have no memory of Olly’s hand on mine, but my brain will remember. We can have immortality or the memory of touch. But we can’t have both.
Later, 8:16 P.M.
Olly: you’re logged on early
Madeline: I told my mom I had a lot of homework
Olly: are you all right?
Madeline: Are you asking if I’m sick?
Madeline: So far, so good.
Olly: are you worried?
Madeline: No. I’m fine.
Madeline: I’m sure I’m fine.
Olly: you are worried
Madeline: A little.
Olly: i shouldn’t have. i’m sorry
Madeline: Please don’t be. I’m not. I wouldn’t trade it.
Olly: are you sure you’re ok?
Madeline: I feel brand-new.
Olly: all from holding hands huh. imagine what a kiss would do
Madeline: Friends don’t kiss, Olly.
Olly: really good ones can
Twenty-four hours later, kissing is all I think about. I see the words imagine what a kiss would do whenever I close my eyes. At some point it occurs to me that I don’t know anything about kissing. Of course, I’ve read about it. I’ve seen enough kissing in movies to get the idea. But I’ve never pictured myself as a kissee, and certainly not a kisser.
Carla says we’re probably OK to see each other again today, but I decide to wait for a couple more days. She doesn’t know about the touch on my ankle, the holding hands, the almost-shared breath. I should tell her, but I don’t. I’m afraid she’ll stop our visits. Another lie to add to my growing count. Olly’s now the only person in my life that I haven’t lied to.
Forty-eight hours post-touch and I’m still feeling fine. I sneak peeks at my charts when Carla’s not looking. Blood pressure, pulse, and temperature all seem OK. No early warning signs in sight.
My body goes a little haywire when I imagine kissing Olly, but I’m pretty sure that’s just lovesickness.
Life and Death
Olly’s not on the wall. He’s not even at a far end of the couch. Instead, he’s right in the middle, elbows on knees, stretching and releasing his rubber band.
I hesitate in the doorway. His eyes don’t leave my face. Does he feel the same urge to occupy the same space, to breathe the same air that I do?
I linger at the threshold to the room, uncertain. I could go to his traditional spot next to the wall. I could stay right here in the doorway. I could tell him that we shouldn’t push my luck, but I can’t. More than that, I don’t want to.
“I think orange is your color,” he says finally.
I’m wearing one of my new T-shirts. It’s V-necked and close fitting and, now, my most favorite piece of clothing. I may buy ten more of this exact shirt.
“Thanks.” I lay a hand across my stomach. The butterflies are back and restless.
“Should I move?” He stretches the rubber band taut between his thumb and index finger.
“I don’t know,” I say.
He nods and begins to rise.
“No, wait,” I say, pressing my other hand to my stomach and walking over to him. I sit, leaving a foot of space between us.
He lets the rubber band snap against his wrist. His shoulders release a tension I didn’t realize he’d been holding.
Next to him, I press my knees together, hunch my shoulders. I make myself as small as possible, as if my size could belie our closeness.
He lifts his arm from his knee, holds his hand out, and wiggles his fingers.
All my hesitation vanishes and I slip my hand into his. Our fingers slide into position as if we’ve been holding hands like this all our lives. I don’t know how the distance between us closes.