“No!” I sit up much too quickly. I’m dizzy and nauseous at once. I mean to say I’m OK, but no sound comes out.

I clear my throat and try again. “Please don’t make me sleep anymore.” I at least need to be awake if I’m going to be alive.

“Am I OK?” I ask.

“You’re OK. You’re going to be OK,” she says. Her voice trembles until it breaks.

I pull myself to seated and look at her. Her skin is pale, almost translucent, and it’s stretched too tight across her face. A painful-looking blue vein stretches down from her hairline to her eyelid. I can see other blue veins just under the skin of her forearms and wrists. She has the frightened, disbelieving eyes of someone who witnessed something horrible and is waiting for more horrors to come.

“How could you do this to yourself? You could’ve died,” she whispers.

She steps closer, hugs a clipboard to her chest. “How could you do this to me? After everything?”

I want to say something. I open my mouth to say it, but nothing comes out.

My guilt is an ocean for me to drown in.

I remain in bed after she leaves. I don’t get up to stretch my body. I turn my face away from the window. What do I regret? That I went outside in the first place. That I saw and fell in love with the world. That I fell in love with Olly. How can I live the rest of my life in this bubble now that I know all that I’m missing?

I close my eyes and try to sleep. But the sight of my mom’s face earlier, all the desperate love in her eyes, won’t leave me. I decide then that love is a terrible, terrible thing. Loving someone as fiercely as my mom loves me must be like wearing your heart outside of your body with no skin, no bones, no nothing to protect it.

Love is a terrible thing and its loss is even worse.

Love is a terrible thing and I want nothing to do with it.

Released, PART TWO

Wednesday, 6:56 P.M.

Olly: jesus, where have you been?

Olly: are you ok?

Madeline: Yes.

Olly: what does your mom say?

Olly: are you going to be ok?

Madeline: I’m OK, Olly.

Olly: i tried to visit you but your mom wouldn’t let me

Madeline: She’s protecting me.

Olly: i know

Madeline: Thanks for saving my life.

Madeline: I’m sorry I put you through all that.

Olly: you don’t have to thank me

Madeline: Thank you anyway.

Olly: are you sure you’re OK?

Madeline: Please don’t ask me that anymore.

Olly: sorry

Madeline: Don’t be.

Later, 9:33 P.M.

Olly: it’s nice being able to IM you again

Olly: you were a terrible mime

Olly: say something

Olly: I know you’re disappointed Mad but at least you’re alive

Olly: we’ll talk to your mom once you’re better again. maybe i can visit

Olly: I know it’s not everything Mad but it’s better than nothing

Later, 12:05 A.M.

Madeline: It’s not better than nothing. It’s absolutely worse than nothing

Olly: what?

Madeline: Do you think we can go back to the way it was before?

Madeline: You want to go back to decontamination, and short visits, and no touching and no kissing and no future?

Madeline: You’re saying that’s enough for you?

Olly: it’s better than nothing

Madeline: No it’s not. Stop saying that.

Later, 2:33 A.M.

Olly: what about the pills?

Madeline: What about them?

Olly: they worked for a couple of days. maybe they’ll get them right eventually

Olly: maddy?

Madeline: There were no pills

Olly: what do you mean?

Madeline: There were never any pills. I told you that so that you would go with me.

Olly: you lied to me?

Olly: but you could’ve died and it would’ve been my fault

Madeline: I’m not your responsibility.

Later, 3:42 A.M.

Madeline: I wanted everything, Olly. I wanted you and the whole wide world. I wanted everything.

Madeline: I can’t do this anymore.

Olly: can’t do what?

Madeline: No more IM. No more e-mail. It’s too hard. I can’t go back. My mom was right. Life was better before.

Olly: better for who?

Olly: don’t do this Maddy

Olly: my life is better with you in it

Madeline: but mine isn’t

<Madeline has logged out>

Life is Short™

Spoiler Reviews by Madeline

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Spoiler alert: You don’t exist if no one can see you.

Geography

I’m in an endless field filled with red poppies. The poppies reach waist-high on single green stalks and are so red they seem to bleed color. In the distance I see one Olly, and then two, and then multiple Ollys marching toward me. They’re wearing gas masks and holding handcuffs and crushing the poppies under black-booted feet as they march toward me, silent and determined.

The dream doesn’t leave me. I drift through the day awake but dreaming, trying not to think of Olly. I try not to think of seeing him for the first time. How he seemed like he was from another planet. I try not to think about Bundt cakes and headstands and kisses and velvet sand. How second and third and fourth kisses are just as amazing as first ones. I try not to think about him moving inside me and us moving together. I try not to think of him because if I do, I’ll have to think about how connected to him and the world I was just a few days go.

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