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Now we’re next to each other, thighs touching, forearms warm against each other, my shoulder pressing into his upper arm. He rubs his thumb across mine, tracing a path from knuckle to wrist. My skin, each individual cell, lights up. Normal, nonsick people get to do this all the time? How do they survive the sensation? How do they keep from touching all the time?
He tugs my hand just slightly. It’s a question, I know, and I look up from the miracle of our hands to the miracle of his face and eyes and lips moving closer to mine. Did I move? Did he?
His breath is warm and then his lips are brushing butterfly-soft against mine. My eyes close on their own. The romantic comedies are right about this part. You have to close your eyes. He pulls away and my lips are cold. Am I doing it wrong? My eyes fly open and crash into the darkening blue of his. He kisses me like he’s afraid to continue and he’s afraid to stop. I grip the front of his shirt and hold on tight.
My butterflies are rioting.
He squeezes my hand and my lips part and we’re tasting each other. He tastes like salted caramel and sunshine. Or what I think salted caramel and sunshine taste like. He tastes like nothing I’ve ever experienced, like hope and possibility and the future.
I pull away first this time, but only because I need air. If I could, I would kiss him every second of every day for all the days.
He leans his forehead against mine. His breath is warm against my nose and cheeks. It’s slightly sweet. The kind of sweet that makes you want more.
“Is it always like that?” I ask, breathless.
“No,” he says. “It’s never like that.” I hear the wonder in his voice.
And just like that, everything changes.
Later, 8:03 P.M.
Olly: no movie night with your mom?
Madeline: I canceled. Carla’s going to be upset with me.
Madeline: I promised her I would spend more time with my mom.
Olly: i’m messing up your life
Madeline: No, please don’t think that.
Olly: what we did today was crazy
Madeline: I know.
Olly: what were we thinking?
Madeline: I don’t know.
Olly: maybe we should take a break?
Olly: sorry. i’m trying to protect you
Madeline: What if protection is not what I need?
Olly: what does that mean?
Madeline: I don’t know.
Olly: i need you to be safe. i don’t want to lose you
Madeline: You barely have me!
Madeline: Are you sorry?
Olly: for what? for kissing?
Madeline: Of course.
Olly: are you sorry?
The universe and my subconscious may be conspiring against me. I’m in the den playing Fonetik with my mom. So far in tonight’s game I’ve gotten tiles to play OWTSYD, FRIDUM, and SEEKRITS. That last one nets me a bonus for using all seven letters. She frowns down at the board and I think she’s going to challenge my word, but she doesn’t. She tallies the score and, for the first time ever, I’m actually winning. I’m ahead of her by seven points.
I look down at the score and then back at her. “Are you sure you did that right?” I ask. I don’t want to beat her on top of everything else.
I tally the score to find that she’s right.
Her eyes are on my face, but I keep staring at the scorecard. She’s been like this all night, watchful, as if I’m a puzzle to be worked out. Or maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe it’s the guilt I feel for being so selfish, for wanting to be with Olly even now. Every moment I spend with him I learn something new. I become someone new.
She takes the scorecard from my hands and lifts my chin so that I have to meet her eyes. “What’s going on, honey?”
I’m about to lie to her when there’s a sudden high scream from outside. Another scream follows and then indistinct yelling and a loud slam. We both spin to stare at the window. I start to rise, but my mom presses down on my shoulder, shakes her head. I let her hold me in place, but another scream of “STOP” has both of us running to the window.
The three of them—Olly, his mom, and his dad are on the porch. Their bodies form a triangle of misery, fear, and anger. Olly’s in fighter stance, fists clenched, feet planted wide and firm. Even from here I can see veins bulging to the surface of his arms, his face. His mom takes a step toward Olly, but he says something to her that makes her retreat.
Olly and his dad face off. His dad is holding a drink in his right hand. He doesn’t take his eyes off Olly as he lifts and finishes it with deep gulps. He holds the empty glass out for Olly’s mom to take. She starts to move, but, again, Olly says something to stop her. His dad turns to look at her then, his hand still rigidly holding the glass. For a moment I think that maybe she won’t go to him.
But her defiance doesn’t last. She takes a step toward him. He grabs at her, all anger and menace. But Olly’s suddenly right there in between them. He swats his dad’s arm away and pushes his mom off to the side.
Even angrier now, his dad lunges again. Olly shoves him backward. He bangs into the wall, but doesn’t fall.
Olly begins dancing lightly on his feet, shaking out his arms and wrists like a boxer preparing for a bout. He’s trying to draw his dad’s attention away from his mom. It works. His dad lunges at him fist first. Olly dodges right and then left. He hops backward down the porch steps just as his dad swings again. His dad misses, and momentum sends him tripping down the steps. He lands in a sprawl on the concrete driveway and doesn’t move.