He lies back down and throws a forearm across his eyes. “The problem is chaos theory. There are too many inputs to the formula and even the small ones matter more than you think. And you can never measure them precisely enough. But! If you could, you could write a formula to predict the weather, the future, people.”

“But chaos theory says you can’t?”


“You needed a whole branch of mathematics to tell you that people are unpredictable?”

“Had that figured out, did you?”

“Books, Olly! I learned it from books.”

He laughs, rolls onto his side, and laughs some more. He’s infectious and I’m laughing, too, my whole body responding to him. I watch for the dimple that I’m no longer supposed to be paying attention to. I want to put my finger into it and keep him smiling forever.

Maybe we can’t predict everything, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly.

It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.


ob•ses•sion (əbˈseSHən) n. pl. -s. 1. acute (and completely justifiable) interest in something (or someone) acutely interesting. [2015, Whittier]


My constant IMing with Olly is catching up with me. I fall asleep during not one but two movie nights with my mom. She begins worrying that something’s wrong, that my immune system is compromised somehow. I tell her it’s simpler than that. I’m just not getting enough sleep. I guess I understand why, given our situation, her doctor’s brain would go immediately to the worst-case scenario. She tells me what I already know, that lack of sleep is not good for someone with my condition. I promise to be better. That night I only IM with him until 2 a.m. instead of our usual 3 a.m.

It feels strange not to talk to my mom about something, someone, who’s becoming so important to me. My mom and I are drifting apart, but not because we’re spending less time together. And not because Olly’s replacing her. We’re drifting apart because for the first time in my life, I have a secret to keep.

Thank You for Shopping


Number of:

minutes it takes Olly’s dad to begin yelling after he arrived home last night:

complaints about the goddamn roast beef
being overcooked again:

times Olly’s mom apologized

times Olly’s dad called Kara a goddamn freak for wearing black nail polish:

minutes it takes Olly’s mom to remove Kara’s nail polish:

times Olly’s dad mentions that he knows someone had been drinking his goddamn whisky:

that he’s the smartest guy in the house:

that no one should forget that he makes all the money:

pun-filled jokes it takes to get Olly feeling marginally better when he IMs at 3 AM:

times he writes “it doesn’t matter” during our IM conversation:

hours of sleep I got last night:

cigarettes Kara buried in the garden this morning:

visible bruises on Olly’s mom:

invisible bruises:

hours until I see Olly again:

Olly says

He’s not on the wall when I see him again the next day. Instead he’s in what I’ve begun to think of as his resting position: bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet with his hands tucked into his pockets.

“Hi,” I say from the door, waiting for my stomach to complete its crazy Olly dance.

“Hey yourself.” His voice is low and a little rough, sleep deprived.

“Thanks for chatting last night,” he says, eyes tracking me all the way to the couch.

“Anytime.” My own voice is husky and low as well. He looks paler than usual today and his shoulders are slumped forward a little, but still he’s moving.

“Sometimes I wish I could just disappear and leave them,” he confesses, ashamed.

I want to say something, not just something, but the perfect thing to comfort him, to make him forget his family for a few minutes, but I can’t think of it. This is why people touch. Sometimes words are just not enough.

Our eyes meet and, since I can’t hug him, I wrap my arms around my own waist, holding on tight.

His eyes drift across my face as if he’s trying to remember something. “Why do I feel like I’ve always known you?” he asks.

I don’t know but I feel it, too. He stops moving, having come to whatever decision he needed to.

He says your world can change in a single moment.

He says no one is innocent, except maybe you, Madeline Whittier.

He says that his dad wasn’t always this way.

Chaos Theory

Ten-year-old Olly and his dad are at the breakfast bar in their old penthouse apartment in New York City. It’s Christmastime, so maybe it’s snowing outside, or maybe it just stopped snowing. This is a memory, so the details are a bit uncertain.

His dad has made fresh hot chocolate. He’s a connoisseur and prides himself on making it from scratch. He melts actual bars of baking chocolate and uses whole “one hundred percent of the fat” milk. He takes Olly’s favorite mug, pours in a layer of chocolate and adds six ounces of hot milk heated to almost boiling on the stove—never in the microwave. Olly stirs the milk and chocolate together while his dad gets the whipped cream, also freshly made, from the fridge. The cream is just lightly sweetened, the kind of sweet that makes you want more. He spoons one dollop, maybe two into Olly’s mug.


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