There are entire worlds that exist just beneath our notice of them.
It’s a strange thing to realize that you’re willing to die. It doesn’t come in a flash, a sudden epiphany. It happens slowly, a balloon leak in reverse.
The sight of Olly crying alone on his porch will not leave me.
I pore over the pictures that he sent from school. I make myself a place in every single one. Maddy in the library. Maddy standing next to Olly’s locker waiting to go to class. Maddy as Girl Most Likely To.
I memorize every inch of my family photo, trying to divine its secrets. I marvel at the not-sick Maddy, baby Maddy, her life stretching before her with endless possibility.
Ever since Olly came into my life there’ve been two Maddys: the one who lives through books and doesn’t want to die, and the one who lives and suspects that death will be small price to pay for it. The first Maddy is surprised at the direction of her thoughts. The second Maddy, the one from the Hawaii photograph? She’s like a god—impervious to cold, famine, disease, natural and man-made disasters. She’s impervious to heartbreak.
The second Maddy knows that this pale half-life is not really living.
The first thing is that I love you. You already know that, but I may not get the chance to tell you again.
So. I love you. I love you. I love you.
You are smart and strong and kind and selfless. I couldn’t have wished for a better mom.
You’re not going to understand what I’m going to say. I don’t know if I understand it myself.
Because of you I’m alive, Mom, and I’m so, so grateful for that. Because of you I’ve survived this long and gotten a chance to know my small part of the world. But it’s not enough. It’s not your fault. It’s this impossible life.
I’m not doing this just because of Olly. Or maybe I am. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s Olly and it’s not-Olly at the same time. It’s like I can’t look at the world in the old way anymore. I found this new part of myself when I met him and the new part doesn’t know how to stay quiet and still and just observe.
Do you remember when we read The Little Prince together for the first time? I was so upset that he died in the end. I didn’t understand how he could choose death just so he could get back to his rose.
I think I understand it now. He wasn’t choosing to die. His rose was his whole life. Without her, he wasn’t really alive.
I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know what I’m doing only that I have to. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the way I was before, before I knew anything. But I can’t.
I’m sorry. Forgive me. I love you.
The Five Senses
The alarm’s keypad tries to announce my escape by emitting a loud BEEP each time I press a number. I can only hope that the sound is too unexpected and my mom’s room too far away from the door for her to hear it.
The door unseals with a sigh.
The world is so quiet it roars.
The front-door handle is metal-cool and smooth, almost slippery. It’s easy to let go of it, and I do.
It’s 4 a.m. and too dark for detail. My eyes take in only the general shape of things, fuzzy silhouettes against the night sky. Large tree, smaller tree, steps, garden, stone path leading to a gate with a picket fence on either side. Gate, gate, gate.
I’m in Olly’s garden. The air is full, ripe with scent—flowers, earth, my expanding fear. I store it away in my lungs. I toss pebbles at his window, willing him to come out.
Olly’s in front of me, stunned. I don’t say anything. I press my lips to his. At first he’s frozen, uncertain and unyielding, but then he’s not. All at once, he pulls me tight against him. One of his hands is in my hair and the other one is gripping my waist.
He tastes just like I remember.
We come to our senses.
Well, Olly comes to his. He pulls away, grips my shoulders with both hands. “What are you doing out here? Are you all right? Is something wrong? Is your mom OK?”
I’m all bravado. “I’m fine. She’s fine. I’m running away.”
The light from his room above casts just enough light so I can see confusion across the planes of his face.
“I don’t understand,” he says.
I take a deep breath, but freeze midway.
The night air is cold and moist and heavy and completely unlike any air I’ve ever breathed.
I try to unbreathe it, to expel it from my lungs. My lips tingle and I’m light-headed. Is that just fear, or is it something else?