We all walk downstairs together. Mom hands her a final check, and she’s gone.
as•ymp•tote (ˈasəm(p)ˌtōt) n. pl. -s. 1. A wish that continually approaches but never achieves fulfillment. [2015, Whittier]
I pull the curtains aside as soon as I’m back in my room. Olly’s standing at his window, his forehead pressed into his fist, his fist pressed into the glass. How long has he been waiting? It takes him a second to realize I’m there, but it’s enough time for me to see his fear. Evidently my function in life is to strike fear into the hearts of those that love me.
Not that Olly loves me.
His eyes roam over my body, my face. He makes a typing gesture with his hands, but I shake my head. He frowns, makes the gesture again, but I shake my head again. He disappears from the window and returns with a marker.
I nod. Are you? I mouth.
I shake my head.
I pantomime excellent health, existential angst, regret, and an enormous sense of loss, all via a single nod.
We stare mutely at each other.
I shake my head. A gesture that says: No, don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s not you. It’s this life.
More Than This
My mom wordlessly kneels to gather scraps of drawings from our game of Honor Pictionary and stacks them into a neat pile. She keeps the best (defined here as either really good or really bad) ones from each game. We sometimes look through our collection nostalgically, the way the other families look through old photos. Her fingers linger atop a particularly bad drawing of some sort of horned creature hovering above a circle with holes in it.
She holds the drawing up for me to see. “How did you guess ‘nursery rhyme’ from this?” She chuckles with effort, trying to break the ice.
“I don’t know,” I say, and laugh, wanting to meet her halfway. “You are a terrible drawer.”
The creature was supposed to be a cow and the circle was supposed to be the moon. Truly, my guess was inspired, given how awful her drawing was.
She pauses stacking for a moment and sits back on her heels. “I really had a good time with you this week,” she says.
I nod but don’t say anything back. Her smile fades. Now that Olly and I can’t see or talk to each other, my mom and I spend more time together. It’s the only good thing to come out of this mess.
I reach out and grab her hand, squeeze it. “Me too.”
She smiles again, but less fully now. “I hired one of the nurses.”
I nod. She offered to let me interview Carla’s potential replacements, but I declined. It doesn’t matter who she hires. No one’s ever going to be able to replace Carla.
“I have to go back to work tomorrow.”
“I wish I didn’t have to leave you.”
“I’ll be OK.”
She straightens the already perfectly straight stack of drawings. “You understand why I have to do the things I’m doing?” Besides firing Carla, she’s also revoked my Internet privileges and canceled my in-person architecture lesson with Mr. Waterman.
We’ve mostly avoided talking about this all week. My lies. Carla. Olly. She took the week off from work and tended to me in Carla’s absence. She took my vitals every hour instead of every two and slumped with relief each time the results were normal.
By day four she said we were out of the woods. We got lucky, she said.
“What are you thinking?” she asks.
“I miss Carla.”
“I do, too, but I’d be a bad mother if I let her stay. Do you understand? She put your life in danger.”
“She was my friend,” I say quietly.
The anger that I’d been expecting from her all week finally sparks.
“But she wasn’t just your friend. She was your nurse. She was supposed to keep you safe. She wasn’t supposed to endanger your life or introduce you to teenage boys who are going to break your heart. Friends don’t give you false hope.”
I must look as stricken as I feel, because she suddenly stops and wipes her palms down the front of her thighs. “Oh, baby girl. I’m so sorry.”
And that’s when it really hits me and all at once. Carla’s really gone. She won’t be here tomorrow when my mom leaves for work. Instead, it will be someone new. Carla’s gone, and it’s my fault. And Olly’s gone, too. I won’t ever get a chance at kiss number two. I gasp against the pain of the thought, against the end of something barely even begun.
I’m sure my mom will eventually allow me access to the Internet and we’ll be able to IM again, but it won’t be enough. If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that it was never going to be enough.
I’ll never get to the end of all the ways I want to be with him.
She presses her hand against her own heart. I know we’re feeling the same pain.
“Tell me about him,” she says.
I’ve wanted to tell her about him for so long, but now I’m not sure where to begin. My heart is so full of him. So, I begin at the beginning. I tell her about seeing him for the first time, about the way he moves—light and fluid and certain. I tell her about his ocean eyes and callused fingers. I tell her how he’s less cynical than he thinks he is. About his awful dad, about his dubious wardrobe choices.
I tell her that he thinks I’m funny and smart and beautiful in that order, and that the order matters. All the things I’ve wanted to say for weeks. She listens and holds my hand and cries along with me.
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