My eyes are closed for too long because Zach finally asks if I’m OK.
I open my eyes and take a sip of pineapple juice, nodding around the straw.
“No, really. Are you feeling OK? Olly told me—”
“He told you I’m sick.”
“I’m fine,” I say, realizing that I really do mean it. I feel fine. I feel more than fine.
I look back down at the phone. I need to say something.
From: [email protected]
To: Madeline F. Whittier
Subject: (no subject)
Please don’t worry, Mom. And please don’t come here. I’m really OK and it’s my life too. I love you. I’ll see you soon.
I hit send and hand the phone back to Zach. He pockets it and stares at me.
“So you really bought pills off the Internet?” he asks.
I’m still so shaken up from my mom’s e-mails and worrying that Olly and I don’t have enough time for each other that I’m not prepared to hear my lie coming out of his mouth. I do exactly what you’re not supposed to do when lying to someone: I don’t meet his eyes. I fidget and blush.
I open my mouth to explain, but no explanation comes.
He’s already guessed the truth by the time I finally meet his eyes.
“Are you going to tell him?” I ask.
“No. I’ve been lying about myself for so long. I know what it’s like.”
Relief washes over me. “Thank you,” I say.
He just nods.
“What would happen if you told your parents?” I ask.
His answer is immediate. “They’d try to make me choose. And I wouldn’t choose them. This way, everybody wins.”
He leans back in his chair and strums. “All apologies to The Rolling Stones, but my first album’s going to be called Between Rock and Roll and a Hard Place. What do you think?”
I laugh. “That’s terrible.”
He grows serious again. “Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love.”
It’s not a question and, anyway, I don’t have an answer.
I turn my head and watch Olly as he walks back toward us.
“Doing OK?” he asks before kissing my forehead and then my nose and then my lips.
I decide not to tell him about my mom’s impending visit. We’ll just make the most of the time we have.
“I’ve never felt better in my life,” I say. I’m grateful at least that I don’t have to lie about this.
The Murphy Bed
It’s late afternoon by the time we get back to the hotel. Olly flicks on all the lights and the ceiling fan and then does a diving somersault onto the bed.
He lies on one side and then the other. “This side is mine,” he says, meaning the left side closest to the door. “I sleep on the left,” he says. “So you know. For future reference.” He sits up and presses down on the mattress with his palms. “You know what I said before about Murphy beds being the height of comfort? I’m going to take that back.”
“Are you nervous?” I blurt out. I turn on the lamp on the right side of the bed.
“No,” he says, too quickly. He rolls over, drops off the side of the bed to the floor, and stays there.
I sit down at the edge of my side and bounce an experimental bounce. The mattress squeaks at me.
“Why do you sleep on the left when you sleep alone?” I ask. I move onto the bed and lie down. He’s right. It’s breathtakingly uncomfortable.
“Maybe it’s anticipation,” he says.
He doesn’t answer, so I roll over to peer down at him. He’s lying on his back, one arm flung across his eyes.
“Company,” he says.
I retract my head, blushing. “You’re kind of a hopeless romantic,” I say.
We slip into quiet. Above us the fan whirs softly coaxing warm air around the room. Through the doors I hear the ding of the elevators and the low murmur of passing voices.
A few days ago just a single day outside seemed like it would be enough, but now that I’ve had one, I want more. I’m not sure if forever would do.
“Yes,” Olly says after a while. “I’m nervous.”
He takes a breath that I don’t hear him release. “I’ve never felt about anybody the way I feel about you.” He doesn’t say it quietly. If anything, he says it too loudly and all in a rush as if the words have been wanting to tumble out for a long time.
I sit up on my elbows, lie back down, sit up again. Are we talking about love?
“I’ve never felt this way either,” I whisper.
“But it’s different for you.” There’s frustration in his voice.
“It’s your first time for everything, Maddy, but it’s not for me.”
I don’t understand. Just because it’s the first time doesn’t make it less real, does it? Even the universe has a beginning.
He’s silent. The more I think about what he’s saying, the more upset I get. But then I realize that he’s not trying to dismiss or belittle my feelings. He’s just scared. Given my lack of choices, what if I’ve just chosen him by default?
He takes a breath. “In my head I know I’ve been in love before, but it doesn’t feel like it. Being in love with you is better than the first time. It feels like the first time and the last time and the only time all at once.”
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