Madeline: Of course.
Olly: are you sorry?
The universe and my subconscious may be conspiring against me. I’m in the den playing Fonetik with my mom. So far in tonight’s game I’ve gotten tiles to play OWTSYD, FRIDUM, and SEEKRITS. That last one nets me a bonus for using all seven letters. She frowns down at the board and I think she’s going to challenge my word, but she doesn’t. She tallies the score and, for the first time ever, I’m actually winning. I’m ahead of her by seven points.
I look down at the score and then back at her. “Are you sure you did that right?” I ask. I don’t want to beat her on top of everything else.
I tally the score to find that she’s right.
Her eyes are on my face, but I keep staring at the scorecard. She’s been like this all night, watchful, as if I’m a puzzle to be worked out. Or maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe it’s the guilt I feel for being so selfish, for wanting to be with Olly even now. Every moment I spend with him I learn something new. I become someone new.
She takes the scorecard from my hands and lifts my chin so that I have to meet her eyes. “What’s going on, honey?”
I’m about to lie to her when there’s a sudden high scream from outside. Another scream follows and then indistinct yelling and a loud slam. We both spin to stare at the window. I start to rise, but my mom presses down on my shoulder, shakes her head. I let her hold me in place, but another scream of “STOP” has both of us running to the window.
The three of them—Olly, his mom, and his dad are on the porch. Their bodies form a triangle of misery, fear, and anger. Olly’s in fighter stance, fists clenched, feet planted wide and firm. Even from here I can see veins bulging to the surface of his arms, his face. His mom takes a step toward Olly, but he says something to her that makes her retreat.
Olly and his dad face off. His dad is holding a drink in his right hand. He doesn’t take his eyes off Olly as he lifts and finishes it with deep gulps. He holds the empty glass out for Olly’s mom to take. She starts to move, but, again, Olly says something to stop her. His dad turns to look at her then, his hand still rigidly holding the glass. For a moment I think that maybe she won’t go to him.
But her defiance doesn’t last. She takes a step toward him. He grabs at her, all anger and menace. But Olly’s suddenly right there in between them. He swats his dad’s arm away and pushes his mom off to the side.
Even angrier now, his dad lunges again. Olly shoves him backward. He bangs into the wall, but doesn’t fall.
Olly begins dancing lightly on his feet, shaking out his arms and wrists like a boxer preparing for a bout. He’s trying to draw his dad’s attention away from his mom. It works. His dad lunges at him fist first. Olly dodges right and then left. He hops backward down the porch steps just as his dad swings again. His dad misses, and momentum sends him tripping down the steps. He lands in a sprawl on the concrete driveway and doesn’t move.
Olly grows still. His mom claps both hands over her mouth. My mom wraps an arm around my shoulder. I press my forehead to the glass and grip the windowsill. All of our eyes are on his dad. The moment stretches out. Every second he doesn’t move is a terrible relief.
His mom is the first to break. She hurries down the steps, crouches down next to him, runs her hand down his back. Olly gestures for her to get away, but she ignores him. She leans in closer just as his dad flips over onto his back. He snatches her wrist in his big, cruel hands. Face triumphant, he hoists her hand up in air like it’s a trophy that he’s won. He pulls himself to standing and drags her up with him.
Again, Olly rushes between them, but this time his dad is ready. Quicker than I’ve ever seen him move, he lets go of Olly’s mom, grabs the collar of Olly’s shirt, and punches him in the stomach.
His mom screams. Then I’m screaming, too. He punches him again.
I don’t see what happens next because I pull away from my mom and I’m running. I don’t think; I just move. I fly out of the room and down the hall. I’m through the air lock and out the door in no time at all.
I don’t know where I’m going, but I have to get to him.
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have to protect him.
I sprint across our grass to the edge of the lawn closest to Olly’s house. His father is lunging for him again when I scream, “STOP!”
They both freeze momentarily in place and look at me, shocked. His dad’s drunkenness catches up to him. He stumbles back up the steps and into the house. His mom follows.
Olly bends over holding his stomach.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
He looks up at me, his face morphing from pain to confusion to fear.
“Go. Go back,” he says.
My mom grabs my arm and tries to pull me away. I’m vaguely aware that she’s hysterical. She’s stronger than I would’ve thought, but my need to see Olly is stronger.
“Are you all right?” I cry out again, unmoving.
He straightens up slowly, gingerly, like something hurts, but the pain doesn’t show on his face.
“Mads, I’m OK. Go back. Please.” The full weight of our feeling for each other hangs between us.
“I promise I’m OK,” he says again, and I let myself be pulled away.
We’re back in the air lock before I start to recognize what I’ve done. Did I really just go Outside? My mom’s hand is a vise on my upper arm. She forces me to face her.
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