He shakes his head. “Who knew you were this stubborn?”
Not me. I didn’t know I was this stubborn.
He claps his hands together. “OK, let’s try something new. Close your eyes.”
I close them.
“Good. Now, pretend you’re in outer space.”
With my eyes closed he feels closer, as if he’s right next to me instead of across the room. His voice slides up my neck, whispers into my ear. “See the stars? And that asteroid field? And that lonely satellite going by? There’s no gravity. You’re weightless. You can do anything you want with your body. You just have to think it.”
I tilt forward and suddenly I’m upside down. At first I’m not sure I’ve done it. I open and close my eyes a few times, but the world remains inverted. Blood rushes to my head, making me feel heavy and light-headed all at once. Gravity pulls my mouth into a smile and tugs my eyes open. I am wonderfully foreign in my own body. My upper arms begin to wobble. I overtilt from the vertical position and my feet touch the wall. I push off to reverse my direction and fall back into a crouch.
“Awesome,” Olly says, clapping. “You even held it for a few seconds. Pretty soon you won’t need the wall at all.”
“How about now?” I say, wanting more, wanting to see the world the way he does.
He hesitates, about to argue, but then his eyes meet mine. He nods and crouches down to watch.
I squat, shift, and push up. I’m unstable almost immediately and begin to fall backward. Olly’s suddenly right next to me, his hands on the bare skin of my ankles, holding me steady. Every nerve in my body migrates to where he touches. The skin under his hand sparks to life, every cell alight with feeling. I feel as if I’ve never been touched before.
“Down,” I say, and he gently lowers my legs until they’re back on the ground. I wait for him to move back to his corner, but he doesn’t. Before I can think better of it, I stand up and face him. We’re only three feet apart. I could reach out and touch him if I wanted to. I move my eyes slowly up to his.
“You OK?” he asks.
I mean to say yes, but I shake my head instead. I should move. He should move. He needs to go back to his side of the world, but he doesn’t and I can see in his eyes that he won’t. My heart beats so loudly that I’m certain he can hear it.
“Maddy?” My name is a question and my eyes move to his lips.
He reaches out his right hand and grabs my left index finger. His hand is rough, uneven with calluses, and so warm. He rubs his thumb once across my knuckle and then cocoons my finger in the palm of his hand.
I look back down at my hand.
Friends are allowed to touch, right?
I disentangle my finger so that I can entangle all the others until our palms are pressed against each other.
I look back up to his eyes and see my reflection there. “What do you see?” I ask.
“Well, the first thing is those freckles.”
“Slightly. It looks like someone sprinkled chocolate across your nose and cheeks.” His eyes travel down to my lips and back up to my eyes. “Your lips are pink and they get pinker when you chew on them. You chew on them more when you’re about to disagree with me. You should do that less. The disagreeing, not the chewing. The chewing is adorable.”
I should say something, stop him, but I can’t speak.
“I’ve never seen anyone with hair as long and poofy and curly as yours it. It looks like a cloud.”
“If clouds were brown,” I say, finally finding my voice, trying to break the spell.
“Yes, curly brown clouds. And then your eyes. I swear they change color. Sometimes they’re almost black. Sometimes they’re brown. I’m trying to find a correlation between the color and your mood, but I don’t have it yet. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Correlation is not causation,” I say, just to have something to say.
He grins and squeezes my hand. “What do you see?”
I want to answer, but I find that I can’t. I shake my head and look back down at our hands.
We remain that way, sliding between certainty and uncertainty and back again until we hear Carla’s approach and are forced to part.
I am made. I am unmade.
I read once that, on average, we replace the majority of our cells every seven years. Even more amazing: we change the upper layers of our skin every two weeks. If all the cells in our body did this, we’d be immortal. But some of our cells, like the ones in our brains, don’t renew. They age, and age us.
In two weeks my skin will have no memory of Olly’s hand on mine, but my brain will remember. We can have immortality or the memory of touch. But we can’t have both.
Later, 8:16 P.M.
Olly: you’re logged on early
Madeline: I told my mom I had a lot of homework
Olly: are you all right?
Madeline: Are you asking if I’m sick?
Madeline: So far, so good.
Olly: are you worried?
Madeline: No. I’m fine.
Madeline: I’m sure I’m fine.
Olly: you are worried
Madeline: A little.
Olly: i shouldn’t have. i’m sorry
Madeline: Please don’t be. I’m not. I wouldn’t trade it.
Olly: are you sure you’re ok?
Madeline: I feel brand-new.
Olly: all from holding hands huh. imagine what a kiss would do
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