9:00 PM - Arrives back on porch, drink in hand.

10:15 PM - Passes out in blue chair.

Sometime later: Stumbles into house.

HIS Mom’s schedule


Kara’s schedule


Olly’s schedule


Five Syllables

A month later, just after Christmas, his dad moves away, too. Through my window I watch him carry just a few boxes to a U-Haul truck. I hope against hope that he’s not going to wherever Olly and Kara and their mom are.

For days after I stare at the house, wondering how it can still manage to look the same, to seem so solid and house-like when there’s no one around to make it a home.

I wait another couple of days before finally reading the e-mails that Olly has sent. They’re still in the trash folder, as I knew they would be.

From: genericuser033

To: Madeline F. Whittier<[email protected]>

Subject: limerick #1

Sent: October 16, 8:07 PM

once was a girl named madeline

speared my heart through with a javelin

said i as i died

(just as an aside)

are there more words that rhyme with madeline?

From: genericuser033

To: Madeline F. Whittier<[email protected]>

Subject: limerick #2

Sent: October 17, 8:03 PM

once lived a girl in a bubble

who i suspected was nothing but trouble

still i gave her my heart

but she blew it apart

and left me with nothing but rubble

I laugh until I cry. He must’ve been really upset with me to send me limericks instead of haiku.

His other e-mails are less poetic. He tells me about trying to convince his mom to get some help and about trying to save Kara from herself. He’s not sure which conversation with his mom finally convinced her. It could’ve been because he told her he couldn’t be part of the family anymore if she stayed. Sometimes you have to leave the people who love you the most, he said. Or, he says, it could’ve been when he finally told her about me and about how sick I am and how I was willing to do anything just to live. He says that she thinks I’m brave.

His last letter is haiku

From: genericuser033

To: Madeline F. Whittier<[email protected]>

Subject: haiku #1

Sent: October 31, 9:07 PM

five syllables here

and now here are seven more

i love you maddy

Here and Now

Olly’s math says you can’t predict the future. It turns out that you can’t predict the past either. Time moves in both directions—forward and backward—and what happens here and now changes them both.

For My Eyes Only

From: Dr. Melissa Francis

To: [email protected]

Subject: Test Results - FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Sent: December 29, 8:03 AM

Ms Whittier,

You probably don’t remember me. My name is Dr. Melissa Francis. You were under my care at Maui Memorial in Hawaii for a few hours two months ago.

I felt it was important to contact you directly. You need to know that I’ve studied your case very closely. I don’t believe you have, or have ever had, SCID.

I know this must be a shock. I’ve attached quite a few test results here and I recommend that you get a second (and a third) opinion.

I believe that you should get another physician besides your mother to verify my findings. Physicians should never practice on their families.

It is my medical opinion that in Hawaii last month you had an episode of myocarditis triggered by a viral infection. I believe that your immune system is especially fragile given what I could surmise about the nature of your upbringing.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Good luck.

Best regards,

Dr. Melissa Francis


I read the e-mail six times before the letters form words and the words form sentences that I can understand, but, even then, the meaning of all the words taken together eludes me. I move on to the attachment showing lab test results. All my numbers are adamantly average—not too high, not too low.

Of course there’s some mistake. Of course this is not right. Dr. Francis has confused my chart with someone else’s. There’s another Madeline Whittier. She’s an inexperienced doctor. The world is casually cruel.

I believe all these things to be true, but still. I print the e-mail, lab test results and all. I’m not moving in slow motion. Time does not speed up or slow down.

The words on the printout are not any different than the ones on the screen, but they feel heavier, more weighty. But they can’t be true. There’s no possibility of them being true.

I spend an hour googling each test, trying to understand what they all mean. Of course the Internet can’t tell me if these results are correct, can’t tell me if I’m a perfectly average teenage girl of perfectly average health.

And I know. I know it’s a mistake. Still, my feet are taking me down the stairs and through the dining room to my mother’s home office. She’s not there, and not in the den. I head to her bedroom and knock lightly, hands shaking. She doesn’t answer. I hear running water. She’s probably in her bathroom getting ready for bed. I knock again loudly.

“Mom,” I call out as I turn the handle.

She’s just leaving the bathroom, turning out the light when I walk in.

Her still-gaunt face breaks into a wide smile when she sees me. Her cheekbones are sharp and more prominent in her narrower face. The dark circles that I put under her eyes seem to have become permanent. She’s not wearing any makeup and her hair hangs loosely around her shoulders. Black silk pajamas hang from her thin frame.


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