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4:00 PM – More homework. More reading.
6:00 PM–9:00 PM – Dinner/hang out with Mom.
9:01 PM – Waits for Olly to appear at window.
9:05 PM – Is joyful. Pantomimes answers to questions.
10:01 PM – Despair, cont’d.
With Olly back in school, our IM sessions are even more limited. He IMs when he can—in between classes or, sometimes, right in the middle of one. During his first week back he does his best to make me feel as if I’m right there with him. He sends pictures of his locker (#23), his class schedule, the library and the librarian who looks exactly as I imagine a high school librarian would, which is to say bookish and wonderful. He sends pictures of math proofs from his AP math class, his AP English required reading list, pictures of beakers and petri dishes from his biology and chemistry classes.
I spend that first week—and it does feel like spending, like not seeing him is costing me something—doing all my normal things: reading, learning, not dying. I write alternate titles for the books on his reading list. A Tale of Two Kisses. To Kiss a Mockingbird. As I Lay Kissing. And so on.
Nurse Evil and I settle into a grudging routine where I pretend she doesn’t exist and she leaves ever more obnoxious sticky notes to let me know that she does.
But it’s not just about missing him. I’m also jealous of his life, of his world that expands beyond his front door.
He tells me that high school is no utopia, but I’m not convinced. What else would you call a place that exists solely to teach you about the world? What do you call a place with friends and teachers and libraries and book club and math club and debate club and any other kind of club and after school activities and endless possibilities?
By the third week it becomes harder to sustain our relationship in this new form. I miss talking to him. You can only pantomime so much. I miss being in the same room with him, his physical presence. I miss the way my body was always aware of his. I miss getting to know him. I miss getting to know the Maddy that I am when I’m with him.
We continue like this until, finally, the inevitable happens.
I’m standing at the window as his car pulls up. I wait for him to exit, to wave our customary wave, but he doesn’t get out first.
A girl that is not Kara emerges from the back of the car.
Maybe she’s a friend of Kara’s.
But then Kara slams out of the car and into the house, leaving Olly and Mystery Girl alone. Mystery Girl laughs at something Olly says. She turns, puts her hand on his shoulder, and smiles at him the way I’ve smiled at him.
I’m shocked at first, not quite believing what my eyes are seeing. Is she touching my Olly? My stomach clenches. I’m being squeezed around the middle by a giant hand. My organs are displaced until I feel wrong inside my own skin.
I let the curtain fall and duck away from the window. I feel like a Peeping Tom.
My mom’s words come back to me. I don’t want you to have a broken heart. She knew what would happen. There was always going to be someone else. Someone who isn’t sick. Someone who can leave her house. Someone he can talk to and touch and kiss and everything else.
I stifle the urge to go back to the window and assess my competition. But it’s not a competition if one person can’t even show up for the event. And it doesn’t matter what she looks like. It doesn’t matter if she’s long- or short-legged. It doesn’t matter if she’s pale or tanned, if her hair is black or brown or red or blond. It doesn’t matter if she’s pretty or not.
It matters that she feels the sun on her skin. She breathes unfiltered air. It matters that she lives in the same world that Olly does and I don’t. I never will.
I take another peek. Her hand is still on his shoulder and she’s still laughing. He’s frowning up at my window, but I’m sure he can’t see me. He waves anyway, but I duck down again, pretending to both of us that I’m not there.
Aloha means HELLO
AND good-bye, Part oneI’ve canceled yet another mother-daughter night, so my mom stops by my room.
“So,” she says.
“I’m sorry I canceled, Mom. I’m just feeling out of sorts.”
She immediately presses the back of her hand to my forehead.
“Mentally, not physically,” I clarify. I can’t get the image of Mystery Girl’s hand on Olly’s shoulder out of my head.
She nods but doesn’t remove her palm until she’s satisfied that I’m not feverish.
“So,” I say, prompting her. I really do want to be alone.
“I was a teenager once. And an only child. I was very lonely. I found being a teenager to be very painful.”
This is why she’s here? Because she thinks I’m lonely? Because she thinks I’m having some sort of teenage angst?
“I am not lonely, Mom,” I snap. “I am alone. Those are different things.”
She flinches but doesn’t retreat. Instead, she lets go of whatever she is holding and caresses my cheek until I meet her eyes.
“I know, baby girl.” Her hands are behind her back again. “Maybe now is not a good time. Do you want me to go?”
She’s always so reasonable and understanding. It’s hard to be angry with her.
“No, it’s OK. I’m sorry. Stay.” I pull my legs up, making room for her. “What are you hiding?” I ask.
“I brought you a present. I thought it would make you feel less lonely, but now I’m not so sure.”
She pulls a framed photograph from behind her back. My heart squeezes inside my chest. It’s an old photograph of the four of us—me, my mom and dad and brother—standing on a beach, someplace tropical. The sun has set behind us and whoever took the picture used the flash and so our faces are bright, almost glowing, against the darkening sky.