Madeline: …

Madeline: Friends don’t kiss, Olly.

Olly: really good ones can

Research

Twenty-four hours later, kissing is all I think about. I see the words imagine what a kiss would do whenever I close my eyes. At some point it occurs to me that I don’t know anything about kissing. Of course, I’ve read about it. I’ve seen enough kissing in movies to get the idea. But I’ve never pictured myself as a kissee, and certainly not a kisser.

Carla says we’re probably OK to see each other again today, but I decide to wait for a couple more days. She doesn’t know about the touch on my ankle, the holding hands, the almost-shared breath. I should tell her, but I don’t. I’m afraid she’ll stop our visits. Another lie to add to my growing count. Olly’s now the only person in my life that I haven’t lied to.

Forty-eight hours post-touch and I’m still feeling fine. I sneak peeks at my charts when Carla’s not looking. Blood pressure, pulse, and temperature all seem OK. No early warning signs in sight.

My body goes a little haywire when I imagine kissing Olly, but I’m pretty sure that’s just lovesickness.

Life and Death

Olly’s not on the wall. He’s not even at a far end of the couch. Instead, he’s right in the middle, elbows on knees, stretching and releasing his rubber band.

I hesitate in the doorway. His eyes don’t leave my face. Does he feel the same urge to occupy the same space, to breathe the same air that I do?

I linger at the threshold to the room, uncertain. I could go to his traditional spot next to the wall. I could stay right here in the doorway. I could tell him that we shouldn’t push my luck, but I can’t. More than that, I don’t want to.

“I think orange is your color,” he says finally.

I’m wearing one of my new T-shirts. It’s V-necked and close fitting and, now, my most favorite piece of clothing. I may buy ten more of this exact shirt.

“Thanks.” I lay a hand across my stomach. The butterflies are back and restless.

“Should I move?” He stretches the rubber band taut between his thumb and index finger.

“I don’t know,” I say.

He nods and begins to rise.

“No, wait,” I say, pressing my other hand to my stomach and walking over to him. I sit, leaving a foot of space between us.

He lets the rubber band snap against his wrist. His shoulders release a tension I didn’t realize he’d been holding.

Next to him, I press my knees together, hunch my shoulders. I make myself as small as possible, as if my size could belie our closeness.

He lifts his arm from his knee, holds his hand out, and wiggles his fingers.

All my hesitation vanishes and I slip my hand into his. Our fingers slide into position as if we’ve been holding hands like this all our lives. I don’t know how the distance between us closes.

Did he move? Did I?

Now we’re next to each other, thighs touching, forearms warm against each other, my shoulder pressing into his upper arm. He rubs his thumb across mine, tracing a path from knuckle to wrist. My skin, each individual cell, lights up. Normal, nonsick people get to do this all the time? How do they survive the sensation? How do they keep from touching all the time?

He tugs my hand just slightly. It’s a question, I know, and I look up from the miracle of our hands to the miracle of his face and eyes and lips moving closer to mine. Did I move? Did he?

His breath is warm and then his lips are brushing butterfly-soft against mine. My eyes close on their own. The romantic comedies are right about this part. You have to close your eyes. He pulls away and my lips are cold. Am I doing it wrong? My eyes fly open and crash into the darkening blue of his. He kisses me like he’s afraid to continue and he’s afraid to stop. I grip the front of his shirt and hold on tight.

My butterflies are rioting.

He squeezes my hand and my lips part and we’re tasting each other. He tastes like salted caramel and sunshine. Or what I think salted caramel and sunshine taste like. He tastes like nothing I’ve ever experienced, like hope and possibility and the future.

I pull away first this time, but only because I need air. If I could, I would kiss him every second of every day for all the days.

He leans his forehead against mine. His breath is warm against my nose and cheeks. It’s slightly sweet. The kind of sweet that makes you want more.

“Is it always like that?” I ask, breathless.

“No,” he says. “It’s never like that.” I hear the wonder in his voice.

And just like that, everything changes.

HONESTLY

Later, 8:03 P.M.

Olly: no movie night with your mom?

Madeline: I canceled. Carla’s going to be upset with me.

Olly: why?

Madeline: I promised her I would spend more time with my mom.

Olly: i’m messing up your life

Madeline: No, please don’t think that.

Olly: what we did today was crazy

Madeline: I know.

Olly: what were we thinking?

Madeline: I don’t know.

Olly: maybe we should take a break?

Madeline: …

Olly: sorry. i’m trying to protect you

Madeline: What if protection is not what I need?

Olly: what does that mean?

Madeline: I don’t know.

Olly: i need you to be safe. i don’t want to lose you

Madeline: You barely have me!

Madeline: Are you sorry?

Olly: for what? for kissing?

Olly: honestly?

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