We continue like this until, finally, the inevitable happens.
I’m standing at the window as his car pulls up. I wait for him to exit, to wave our customary wave, but he doesn’t get out first.
A girl that is not Kara emerges from the back of the car.
Maybe she’s a friend of Kara’s.
But then Kara slams out of the car and into the house, leaving Olly and Mystery Girl alone. Mystery Girl laughs at something Olly says. She turns, puts her hand on his shoulder, and smiles at him the way I’ve smiled at him.
I’m shocked at first, not quite believing what my eyes are seeing. Is she touching my Olly? My stomach clenches. I’m being squeezed around the middle by a giant hand. My organs are displaced until I feel wrong inside my own skin.
I let the curtain fall and duck away from the window. I feel like a Peeping Tom.
My mom’s words come back to me. I don’t want you to have a broken heart. She knew what would happen. There was always going to be someone else. Someone who isn’t sick. Someone who can leave her house. Someone he can talk to and touch and kiss and everything else.
I stifle the urge to go back to the window and assess my competition. But it’s not a competition if one person can’t even show up for the event. And it doesn’t matter what she looks like. It doesn’t matter if she’s long- or short-legged. It doesn’t matter if she’s pale or tanned, if her hair is black or brown or red or blond. It doesn’t matter if she’s pretty or not.
It matters that she feels the sun on her skin. She breathes unfiltered air. It matters that she lives in the same world that Olly does and I don’t. I never will.
I take another peek. Her hand is still on his shoulder and she’s still laughing. He’s frowning up at my window, but I’m sure he can’t see me. He waves anyway, but I duck down again, pretending to both of us that I’m not there.
Aloha means HELLO
AND good-bye, Part one
I’ve canceled yet another mother-daughter night, so my mom stops by my room.
“So,” she says.
“I’m sorry I canceled, Mom. I’m just feeling out of sorts.”
She immediately presses the back of her hand to my forehead.
“Mentally, not physically,” I clarify. I can’t get the image of Mystery Girl’s hand on Olly’s shoulder out of my head.
She nods but doesn’t remove her palm until she’s satisfied that I’m not feverish.
“So,” I say, prompting her. I really do want to be alone.
“I was a teenager once. And an only child. I was very lonely. I found being a teenager to be very painful.”
This is why she’s here? Because she thinks I’m lonely? Because she thinks I’m having some sort of teenage angst?
“I am not lonely, Mom,” I snap. “I am alone. Those are different things.”
She flinches but doesn’t retreat. Instead, she lets go of whatever she is holding and caresses my cheek until I meet her eyes.
“I know, baby girl.” Her hands are behind her back again. “Maybe now is not a good time. Do you want me to go?”
She’s always so reasonable and understanding. It’s hard to be angry with her.
“No, it’s OK. I’m sorry. Stay.” I pull my legs up, making room for her. “What are you hiding?” I ask.
“I brought you a present. I thought it would make you feel less lonely, but now I’m not so sure.”
She pulls a framed photograph from behind her back. My heart squeezes inside my chest. It’s an old photograph of the four of us—me, my mom and dad and brother—standing on a beach, someplace tropical. The sun has set behind us and whoever took the picture used the flash and so our faces are bright, almost glowing, against the darkening sky.
My brother is holding on to my dad with one hand and clutching a small brown stuffed bunny rabbit with the other. For the most part he’s a miniature version of my mom with her same straight black hair and dark eyes. Really the only difference is that he has my dad’s darker skin. My dad’s wearing a matching Aloha-print shirt and shorts. Goofy is the only word I can think of to describe him. Still, he’s so handsome. His arm is wrapped around my mom’s shoulder and he seems to be pulling her closer. He’s staring straight into the camera. If ever there was someone who had everything he wanted, my dad was him.
Mom is wearing a red, strapless, flower-patterned sundress. Her damp hair curls around her face. She’s not wearing makeup or jewelry. Really, she looks like an alternate universe version of the mom sitting next to me now. She seems to belong on that beach with those people more than she belongs stuck here in this room with me. She’s holding me in her arms, and she’s the only one not staring into the camera. Instead, she’s laughing at me. I’m grinning that silly, gummy smile that only babies can smile.
I’ve never seen a photo of myself Outside before. I didn’t know such a thing existed.
“Where’s this?” I ask.
“Hawaii. Maui was your dad’s favorite place.”
Her voice is almost a whisper now. “You were just four months old, before we knew why you were always sick. A month before the accident.”
I clutch the photo to my chest. My mom’s eyes fill with tears that don’t fall.
“I love you,” she says. “More than you know.”
But I do know. I’ve always felt her heart reaching out to protect mine. I hear lullabies in her voice. I can still feel arms rocking me to sleep and her kisses on my cheeks in the morning. And I love her right back. I can’t imagine the world she’s given up for me.
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