I tell myself it’s OK. I didn’t get sick after the last time I saw him, and he knows the rules—no touching, full decontamination treatment, no visit if he even suspects he could get sick in the next few days.
I tell myself there’s no harm in lying to my mom. I tell myself I won’t get sick. I tell myself there’s no harm in friendship.
That Carla is right, and love can’t kill me.
Olly’s on the wall again when I enter the room. This time he’s climbed all the way to the top.
“Don’t your fingertips ever get tired?” I ask.
“I’ve got them on a strict workout regimen,” he says, grinning at me. My stomach does a little flip thing that I’m really going to have to get used to, since it seems to be a side effect of seeing him.
I was in this room to do my homework yesterday. I know it’s exactly the same as I left it, but it looks and feels different. The room is so much more alive with Olly in it. If all the fake plants and trees swayed to life right now, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I walk to the couch and settle into the corner farthest away from him.
Down from the wall, he sits down cross-legged and leans his back against it.
I tuck my legs beneath me, adjust my mass of hair, hug my waist. What is it about being in the same room with him that makes me so conscious of my body and all its parts? He even makes me aware of my skin.
“You’re wearing shoes today,” he says, notices. He’s definitely a noticer, the kind of boy who would know if you’d rearranged a painting or added a new vase to a room.
I look down at my shoes. “I have nine pairs of these exact same shoes.”
“And you complain about my wardrobe choices?”
“You only wear black! It makes you look sepulchral.”
“I need a dictionary to talk to you.”
“Of or relating to a sepulcher.”
“Not that helpful a definition.”
“Basically you’re the angel of death.”
He grins at me. “The scythe gave me away, didn’t it? I thought I hid it so well.”
He changes positions. Now he’s lying flat on his back, knees bent, hands laced behind his head.
I shift my body again for no reason, pulling my legs into my chest and wrapping my arms around them. Our bodies are having their own conversation separate and apart from us. Is this the difference between friendship and something else? This awareness that I have of him?
The air filters cycle on, making a low hum beneath the sound of the fan.
“How does that work?” His eyes are scanning the ceiling.
“It’s industrial. The windows are sealed so air only comes in through the filters on the roof. Nothing over 0.3 microns gets in. Also, the circulation system completely changes all the air in the house every four hours.”
“Wow.” He turns his head to look at me and I can see him trying to come to terms with just how sick I am.
I look away. “The settlement paid for it.” Before he can ask I add: “The trucker who killed my dad and brother fell asleep behind the wheel. He’d been working three shifts in a row. They settled with my mom.”
He turns his head back towards the ceiling. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s strange because I don’t really remember them. Meaning I don’t remember them at all.” I try to ignore the feelings that surface when I think about them. There’s sadness that’s not quite sadness, and then guilt. “It’s weird to miss something you’ve never had or don’t remember having, anyway.”
“Not so weird,” he says. We’re both quiet and he closes his eyes.
“Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you could just change one thing?” he asks.
Not usually, but I’m starting to. What if I weren’t sick? What if my dad and brother hadn’t died? Not wondering about impossible things is how I’ve managed to be relatively Zen.
“Everyone thinks they’re special,” he says. “Everyone’s a snowflake, right? We’re all unique and complicated. We can never know the human heart, and all that?”
I nod slowly, certain I agree with what he’s saying now, but equally certain that I’m going to disagree with whatever’s next.
“I think that’s nonsense. We’re not snowflakes. We’re just outputs for a set of inputs.”
I stop nodding. “Like a formula?”
“Exactly like a formula.” He props himself up to his elbows and looks at me. “I think there are one or two inputs that matter the most. Figure those out and you’ve figured out the person. You can predict anything about them.”
“Really? What am I going to say now?”
He winks at me. “You think I’m a brute, a heretic, a—”
“A crackpot,” I complete for him. “You don’t really believe we’re math equations?”
“I might.” He lies back down.
“But how do you know which input to change?” I ask.
He sighs a long, suffering sigh. “Yeah, that’s the problem. Even if you could figure out which one to change, then how much should you change it? And what if you can’t change it precisely enough? Then you couldn’t predict the new output. You could make things worse.”
He sits up again. “Imagine, though, if you could just change the right inputs you could fix things before they went wrong.” He says this last part quietly, but with the frustration of someone who’s been trying to solve the same unsolvable problem for a long time now. Our eyes meet and he looks embarrassed, like he’s revealed more than he meant to.
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