He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.
From: Madeline F. Whittier
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.
By the time I get there, Olly has managed to climb halfway up the rocky back wall, hands and feet wedged into crevices. He’s pinching one of the large banana leaves between his fingers when I walk in.
“It’s not real,” he says to me.
“It’s not real,” I say at the same time.
He lets go of the branch but remains where he is on the wall. Climbing for him is like walking for the rest of us.
“Are you going to stay up there?” I ask, because I don’t know what else to say.
“I’m thinking about it, Maddy. Carla said I had to stay as far away from you as possible and she doesn’t seem like the kind of lady that you piss off.”
“You can come down,” I say. “Carla’s not as scary as she seems.”
“OK.” He slips effortlessly to the floor. He puts his hands into his pockets, crosses his feet at the ankles, and leans back against the wall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so still. I think he’s trying not to spook me.
“Maybe you should come in,” he says, and then I realize that I’m still in the doorway holding on to the knob. I close the door but don’t take my eyes off him. His eyes track my movements as well.
After all the IMs I felt like I knew him, but now with him standing in front of me it doesn’t feel that way at all. He’s taller than I thought and way more muscled, but not bulky. His arms are lean and sculpted and his biceps fill the sleeves of his black T-shirt. His skin is a tanned golden brown. It would be warm to touch.
“You’re different than I thought you’d be,” I blurt out.
He grins and a dimple forms just under his right eye.
“I know. Sexier, right? It’s OK, you can say it.”
I guffaw. “How do you manage to carry around an ego that size and weight?”
“It’s the muscles,” he shoots back, flexing his biceps and raising a single comical eyebrow.
Some of my nervousness falls way but then comes right back when he watches me laugh without saying anything for a few seconds too long.
“Your hair really is so long,” he says. “And you never said you had freckles.”
“Was I supposed to?”
“Freckles might be a deal breaker.” He smiles and the dimple comes back. Cute.
I move to the couch and sit. He leans against the rock wall across the room.
“They’re the bane of my existence,” I say, referring to the freckles. This is a ridiculous thing to say because, of course, the bane of my existence is that I’m sick and unable to leave my house. We both realize this at the same time and then we’re both laughing again.
“You’re funny,” he says after our laughter subsides.
I smile. I’ve never thought of myself as a funny girl, but I’m happy that he thinks so.
We are awkward together for a few moments unsure what to say. The silence would be much less noticeable over IM. We could chalk it up to any number of distractions. But right now in real life it feels like we both have blank thought balloons over our heads. Actually, mine’s not blank at all, but I really can’t tell him how beautiful his eyes are. They’re Atlantic Ocean blue, just like he’d said. It’s strange because of course I’d known that. But the difference between knowing it and seeing them in person is the difference between dreaming of flying and flight.
“This is some crazy room,” he says, looking around.
“Yeah. My mom built it so I could feel like I was outside.”
“Does it work?”
“Most days. I have a really excellent imagination.”
“You really are a fairy tale. Princess Madeline and the Glass Castle.” He’s quiet again, like he’s trying to build up to something.
“It’s OK to ask me,” I say.
He’s wearing a single black rubber band around his wrist and he pulls at it a few times before continuing. “How long have you been sick?”
“My whole life.”
“What would happen if you went outside?”
“My head would explode. Or my lungs. Or my heart.”
“How can you joke … ?”
I shrug. “How can I not? Besides, I try not to want things I can’t have.”
“You’re like a Zen master. You should teach a class.”
“It takes a long time to learn.” I smile back at him.
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