Panic sends my heart racing. “Carla, please. Please don’t take him away from me.”

“He’s not yours!”

“I know—”

“No, you don’t know. He’s not yours. Maybe he has time for you right now, but he’s going to go back to school soon. He’s going to meet some girl, and he’s going to be her Olly. You understand me?”

I know she’s just trying to protect me, just as I was trying to protect myself a few short weeks ago, but her words make me aware that the heart in my chest is a muscle like any other. It can hurt.

“I understand,” I say quietly.

“Spend some time with your mother. Boys come and go, but mothers are forever.”

I’m sure she’s said these very same words to her Rosa.

“All right.” She hands me back the remote. Together we watch the unmoving screen.

She pushes down on the tops of her knees with both hands and rises.

“Did you mean it?” I ask her when she’s halfway across the room.

“Mean what?”

“You said that love couldn’t kill me.”

“Yes, but it might kill your mother.” She manages a small smile.

I hold my breath, waiting.

“OK, fine. You can still see him, but you have to get some sense into you. You understand?”

I nod my agreement and turn the television off. Ethan Hunt vanishes.

I spend the rest of the day in the sunroom away from Carla. I’m not angry at Carla, but I’m not not angry either. All my doubts about keeping Olly a secret from my mom have vanished. I can’t believe that one canceled date with her almost led to my not being able to see Olly again. Before, I was worried about keeping secrets from her. Now, I’m worried about not being able to have any secrets at all. I know she’s not upset that I bought new clothes. She’s upset that I didn’t ask her opinion and bought them in colors that she didn’t expect. She’s upset with the change she didn’t see coming. I resent and understand it at the same time. She’s had to control so many things to keep me safe in my bubble.

And she’s not wrong. I have been distracted when I’m with her, my mind constantly tuning into Radio Olly. I know she’s not wrong. But still I resent it. Isn’t growing apart a part of growing up? Don’t I even get to have this bit of normalcy?

Even so, I feel guilty. She’s devoted her entire life to me. Who am I to throw that away at the first sign of love?

Carla eventually finds me for our 4 p.m. checkup.

“Is there such a thing as sudden onset schizophrenia?” I ask.

“Why? You have it?”


“Am I talking to good Maddy or bad Maddy right now?”


She pats my hand. “Be good to your mama. You’re all she has.”


Upside Down

Normal people pace when they’re nervous. Olly stalks.

“Olly! It’s just a handstand. Against a wall. I’ll be fine.” It’s taken me an hour to convince him to show me how to do one.

“You don’t have enough wrist or upper body strength,” he grumbles.

“You used that one already. Besides, I’m strong,” I say, and flex a single bicep. “I can bench-press my weight in books.”

He smiles a little at that, then mercifully stops pacing. He flicks his rubber band as his eyes scan my body, mentally critiquing my lack of physical fortitude.

I roll my eyes as dramatically as possible.

“Fine,” he sighs, with equal drama. “Squat.” He demonstrates.

“I know what a—”


I squat down.

From across the room he checks my form and instructs me to make adjustments—hands twelve inches apart, arms straight with elbows pressed against my knees, fingertips splayed—until I’m just right.

“Now,” he says, “shift your weight forward just slightly until your toes come off the ground.”

I shift too far and roll head over heels onto my back.

“Huh,” he says, and then presses his lips together. He’s trying not to laugh, but the telltale dimple gives it away. I get back in position.

“More shift, less tilt,” he says.

“I thought I was shifting.”

“Not so much. OK, now. Watch me.” He crouches down. “Hands twelve inches apart, elbows against your knees, fingertips splayed. Then slowly, slowly shift your weight forward onto your shoulders—get those toes off the ground—and then just push yourself up.” He pushes up into the handstand with his usual effortless grace. Again I’m struck by how peaceful he is in motion. This is like meditation for him. His body is his escape from the world, whereas I’m trapped in mine.

“Do you want to see it again?” he asks, flowing back to his feet.

“Nope.” Overeager, I push forward into my shoulder as instructed, but nothing happens. Nothing happens for about an hour. My lower half remains firmly anchored to the ground while my upper arms burn from the effort. I manage several more unintentional somersaults. By the end all I’ve gotten good at is not yelping as I roll over.

“Take a break?” he asks, still trying not to smile.

I growl at him, lower my head, and push forward again into another somersault. Now he’s definitely laughing.

I remain flat on my back, catching my breath, and then I’m laughing along with him. A few seconds later I crouch back into a squat.


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