I curl up in my bed and stare at it.
I’m almost ﬁnished with it. There aren’t very many more entries. I pick up the journal and place it on the pillow beside me.
“I’m not going to read you,” I whisper.
Although, if I read what’s left, I’ll be ﬁnished. Having seen Atlas tonight and knowing he has a girlfriend and a job and more than likely a home is enough closure I need on that chapter. And if I just ﬁnish the damn journal, I can put it back in the shoebox and never have to open it again.
I ﬁnally pick it up and roll onto my back. “Ellen DeGeneres, you are such a bitch.”
“Just keep swimming.”
Recognize that quote, Ellen? It’s what Dory says to Marlin in Finding Nemo.
“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
I’m not a huge fan of cartoons, but I’ll give you props for that one. I like cartoons that can make you laugh, but also make you feel something. After today, I think that’s my favorite cartoon. Because I’ve been feeling like drowning lately, and sometimes people need a reminder that they just need to keep swimming.
Atlas got sick. Like really sick.
He’s been crawling through my window and sleeping on the ﬂoor for a few nights in a row now, but last night, I knew something was wrong as soon as I looked at him. It was a Sunday, so I hadn’t seen him since the night before, but he looked awful. His eyes were bloodshot, his skin was pale, and even though it was cold, his hair was sweaty. I didn’t even ask if he was feeling okay, I already knew he wasn’t. I put my hand on his forehead and he was so hot, I almost yelled for my mother.
He said, “I’ll be ﬁne, Lily,” and then he started to make his pallet on the ﬂoor. I told him to wait there and then I went to the kitchen and poured him a glass of water. I found some medicine in the cabinet. It was ﬂu medicine and I wasn’t even sure if that’s what was wrong with him, but I made him take some anyway.
He laid there on the ﬂoor, curled up into a ball, when, about half an hour later he said, “Lily? I think I’m gonna need a trash can.”
I jumped up and grabbed the trash can from under my desk and knelt down in front of him. As soon as I set it down, he hunched over it and started throwing up.
God, I felt bad for him. Being so sick and not having a bathroom or a bed or a house or a mother. All he had was me and I didn’t even know what to do for him.
When he was ﬁnished, I made him drink some water and then I told him to get on the bed. He refused, but I wasn’t having it. I put the trash can on the ﬂoor next to the bed and made him move to the bed.
He was so hot and shaking so bad I was just scared to leave him on the ﬂoor. I laid down next to him and every hour for the next six hours he continued getting sick. I kept having to take the trash can to the bathroom to empty it out. I’m not gonna lie, it was gross. The grossest night I’ve ever had, but what else could I do? He needed me to help him and I was all he had.
When it came time for him to leave my room this morning, I told him to go back to his house and I’d be over to check on him before school. I’m surprised he even had the energy to crawl out of my window. I left the trash can next to my bed and waited for my mom to come wake me up. When she did, she saw the trash can and immediately held her hand to my forehead. “Lily, are you okay?”
I groaned and shook my head. “No. I was up all night sick. I think it’s over now, but I haven’t slept.”
She picked up the trash can and told me to stay in bed, that she’d call the school and let them know I wasn’t coming. After she left for work, I went and got Atlas and told him he could stay with me at the house all day. He was still getting sick, so I let him use my room to sleep. I’d check on him every half hour or so and ﬁnally around lunch he stopped throwing up. He went and took a shower and then I made him some soup.
He was too tired to even eat it. I got a blanket and we both sat down on the couch and covered up together. I don’t know when I started feeling
comfortable enough to snuggle up to him, but it just felt right. A few minutes later, he leaned over a little and pressed his lips against my collarbone, right between my shoulder and my neck. It was a quick kiss and I don’t think he meant for it to be romantic. It was more like a thank-you gesture, without using actual words. But it made me feel all kinds of things. It’s been a few hours now and I keep touching that spot with my ﬁngers because I can still feel it.
I know it was probably the worst day of his life, Ellen. But it was one of my favorites.
I feel really bad about that.
We watched Finding Nemo and when that part came up where Marlin was looking for Nemo and he was feeling really defeated, Dory said to him, “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? . . . Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
Atlas grabbed my hand when Dory said that. He didn’t hold it like a boyfriend holds his girlfriend’s hand. He squeezed it, like he was saying that was us. He was Marlin and I was Dory, and I was helping him swim.
“Just keep swimming,” I whispered to him.
I’m scared. So scared.
I like him a lot. He’s all I think about when we’re together and I feel worried sick about him when we’re not. My life is beginning to revolve around him and that’s not good, I know. But I can’t help it and I don’t know what to do about it, and now he might leave.
He left after we ﬁnished watching Finding Nemo yesterday and then when my parents went to bed, he crawled in my window last night. He had slept in my bed the night before because he was sick, and I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I put his blankets in the washing machine right before I went to bed. He asked where his pallet was and I told him he’d have to sleep on the bed again because I wanted to wash his blankets and make sure they were clean so he wouldn’t get sick again.
For a minute, it looked like he was going to go back out the window. But then he shut it and took off his shoes and crawled in the bed with me.
He wasn’t sick anymore, but when he laid down I thought maybe I had gotten sick because my stomach felt queasy. But I wasn’t sick. I just always
feel queasy when he’s that close to me.
We were facing each other on the bed when he said, “When do you turn sixteen?”
“Two more months,” I whispered. We just kept staring at each other, and my heart was beating faster and faster. “When do you turn nineteen?” I asked, just trying to make conversation so he couldn’t hear how hard I was breathing.
“Not until October,” he said.
I nodded. I wondered why he was curious about my age and it made me wonder what he thought about ﬁfteen-year-olds. Did he look at me like I was just a little kid? Like a little sister? I was almost sixteen, and two and a half years apart in age isn’t that bad. Maybe when two people are ﬁfteen and eighteen, it might seem a little too far apart. But once I turn sixteen, I bet no one would even think twice about a two-and-a-half-year age difference.
“I need to tell you something,” he said.
I held my breath, not knowing what he was going to say.
“I got in touch with my uncle today. My mom and I used to live with him in Boston. He told me once he gets back from his work trip I can stay with him.”
I should have been so happy for him in that moment. I should have smiled and told him congratulations. But I felt all of the immaturity of my age when I closed my eyes and felt sorry for myself.
“Are you going?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I wanted to talk to you about it ﬁrst.”
He was so close to me on the bed, I could feel the warmth of his breath. I also noticed he smelled like mint, and it made me wonder if he uses bottled water to brush his teeth before he comes over here. I always send him home every day with lots of water.
I brought my hand up to the pillow and started pulling at a feather sticking out of it. When I got it all the way out, I twisted it between my ﬁngers. “I don’t know what to say, Atlas. I’m happy you have a place to stay. But what about school?”
“I could ﬁnish down there,” he said.
I nodded. It sounded like he already made up his mind. “When are you leaving?”
I wondered how far away Boston is. It’s probably a few hours, but that’s a whole world away when you don’t own a car.
“I don’t know for sure that I am.”
I dropped the feather back onto the pillow and brought my hand to my side. “What’s stopping you? Your uncle is offering you a place to stay. That’s good, right?”
He tightened his lips together and nodded. Then he picked up the feather I’d been playing with and he started twisting it between his ﬁngers. He laid it back down on the pillow and then he did something I wasn’t expecting. He moved his ﬁngers to my lips and he touched them.
God, Ellen. I thought I was gonna die right then and there. It was the most I’d ever felt inside my body at one time. He kept his ﬁngers there for a few seconds, and he said, “Thank you, Lily. For everything.” He moved his ﬁngers up and through my hair, and then he leaned forward and planted a kiss on my forehead. I was breathing so hard, I had to open my mouth to catch more air. I could see his chest moving just as hard as mine was. He looked down at me and I watched as his eyes went right to my mouth. “Have you ever been kissed, Lily?”
I shook my head no and tilted my face up to his because I needed him to change that right then and there or I wasn’t gonna be able to breathe.
Then—almost as if I were made of eggshells—he lowered his mouth to mine and just rested it there. I didn’t know what to do next, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if we just stayed like that all night and never even moved our mouths, it was everything.
His lips closed over mine and I could kind of feel his hand shaking. I did what he was doing and started to move my lips like he was. I felt the tip of his tongue brush across my lips once and I thought my eyes were about to roll back in my head. He did it again, and then a third time, so I ﬁnally did it, too. When our tongues touched for the ﬁrst time, I kind of smiled a little, because I’d thought about my ﬁrst kiss a lot. Where it would be, who it would be with. Never in a million years did I imagine it would feel like this. He pushed me on my back and pressed his hand against my cheek and kept kissing me. It just got better and better as I grew more comfortable. My favorite moment was when he pulled back for a second and looked down at
me, then came back even harder.
I don’t know how long we kissed. A long time. So long, my mouth started to hurt and my eyes couldn’t stay open. When we fell asleep, I’m pretty sure his mouth was still touching mine.
We didn’t talk about Boston again. I still don’t know if he’s leaving.
• • •
I need to apologize to you.
It’s been a week since I’ve written to you and a week since I’ve watched your show. Don’t worry, I still record it so you’ll get the ratings, but every day we get off the bus, Atlas takes a quick shower and then we make out.
Every day. It’s awesome.
I don’t know what it is about him, but I feel so comfortable with him. He’s so sweet and thoughtful. He never does anything I don’t feel comfortable with, but so far he hasn’t tried anything I don’t feel comfortable with.
I’m not sure how much I should divulge here, since you and I have never met in person. But let me just say that if he’s ever wondered what my boobs feel like . . .
Now he knows.
I can’t for the life of me ﬁgure out how people function from day to day when they like someone this much. If it were up to me, we would kiss all day and all night and do nothing in between except maybe talk a little. He tells funny stories. I love it when he’s in a talkative mood because it doesn’t happen very often, but he uses his hands a lot. He smiles a lot, too, and I love his smile even more than I love his kiss. And sometimes I just tell him to shut up and stop smiling or kissing or talking so I can stare at him. I like looking at his eyes. They’re so blue that he could be standing across a room and a person could tell how blue his eyes were. The only thing I don’t like about kissing him sometimes is when he closes his eyes.
And no. We still haven’t talked about Boston.
Yesterday afternoon when we were riding the bus, Atlas kissed me. It wasn’t anything new to us because we had kissed a lot by this point, but it’s the ﬁrst time he ever did it in public. When we’re together everything else just seems to fade away, so I don’t think he even thought about other people
noticing. But Katie noticed. She was sitting in the seat behind us and I heard her say, “Gross,” as soon as he leaned over and kissed me.
She was talking to the girl next to her when she said, “I can’t believe Lily lets him touch her. He wears the same clothes almost every day.”
Ellen, I was so mad. I also felt awful for Atlas. He pulled away from me and I could tell what she said bothered him. I started to turn around to yell at her for judging someone she doesn’t even know, but he grabbed my hand and shook his head no.
“Don’t, Lily,” he said. So I didn’t.
But for the rest of the bus ride, I was so angry. I was angry that Katie would say something so ignorant just to hurt someone she thought was beneath her. I was also hurt that Atlas appeared to be used to comments like that.
I didn’t want him to think I was embarrassed that anyone saw him kiss me. I know Atlas better than any of them do, and I know what a good person he is, no matter what his clothes look like or that he used to smell before he started using my shower.
I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and then rested my head on his shoulder.
“You know what?” I said to him.
He slid his ﬁngers through mine and squeezed my hand. “What?” “You’re my favorite person.”
I felt him laugh a little and it made me smile. “Out of how many people?” he asked.
“All of them.”
He kissed the top of my head and said, “You’re my favorite person, too, Lily. By a long shot.”
When the bus came to a stop on my street, he didn’t let go of my hand when we started to walk off. He was in front of me in the aisle and I was walking behind him, so he didn’t see it when I turned around and ﬂipped off Katie.
I probably shouldn’t have done it, but the look on her face made it worth
When we got to my house, he took the house key out of my hand and
unlocked my front door. It was weird, seeing how comfortable he is at my house now. He walked in and locked the door behind us. That’s when we noticed the electricity in the house wasn’t working. I looked out the window
and saw a utility truck down the street working on the power lines, so that meant we couldn’t watch your show. I wasn’t too upset because it meant we would probably just make out for an hour and a half.
“Does your oven run off gas or electricity?” he asked.
“Gas,” I said, a little confused that he was asking about our oven.
He kicked off his shoes (which were really just a pair of my father’s old shoes) and he started walking toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make you something,” he said.
“You know how to cook?”
He opened the refrigerator and started moving things around. “Yep. I probably love to cook as much as you love to grow things.” He took a few things out of the refrigerator and preheated the oven. I leaned against the counter and watched him. He wasn’t even looking at a recipe. He was just pouring things into bowls and mixing them without even using a measuring cup.
I had never seen my father lift a ﬁnger in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even know how to preheat our oven. I kind of thought most men were like that, but watching Atlas work his way around my kitchen proved me wrong.
“What are you making?” I asked him. I pushed my hands on the island and hoisted myself onto it.
“Cookies,” he said. He walked the bowl over to me and stuck a spoon in the mixture. He brought the spoon up to my mouth and I tasted it. One of my weaknesses is cookie dough, and this was the best I’d ever tasted.
“Oh, wow,” I said, licking my lips.
He set the bowl down beside me and then leaned in and kissed me. Cookie dough and Atlas’s mouth mixed together is like heaven, in case you’re wondering. I made a noise deep in my throat that let him know how much I liked the combination, and it made him laugh. But he didn’t stop kissing me. He just laughed through the kiss and it completely melted my heart. A happy Atlas was near mind-blowing. It made me want to uncover every single thing about this world that he likes and give it all to him.
When he was kissing me, I wondered if I loved him. I’ve never had a boyfriend before and have nothing to compare my feelings to. In fact, I’ve never really wanted a boyfriend or a relationship until Atlas. I’m not growing up in a household with a great example of how a man should treat someone he loves, so I’ve always held on to an unhealthy amount of distrust when it comes to relationships and other people.
There have been times I’ve wondered if I could ever allow myself to trust a guy. For the most part, I hate men because the only example I have is my father. But spending all this time with Atlas is changing me. Not in a huge way, I don’t think. I still distrust most people. But Atlas is changing me enough to believe that maybe he’s an exception to the norm.
He stopped kissing me and picked up the bowl again. He walked it over to the opposite counter and started spooning dough onto two cookie sheets.
“You want to know a trick to cooking with a gas oven?” he asked.
I’m not sure I really ever cared about cooking before, but he somehow made me want to know everything he knew. It might have been how happy he looked when he talked about it.
“Gas ovens have hot spots,” he said as he opened the oven door and put the cookie sheets inside. “You have to be sure and rotate the pans so they’ll cook evenly.” He closed the door and pulled the oven mitt off his hand. He tossed it on the counter. “A pizza stone helps, too. If you just keep it in the oven, even when you aren’t baking pizza, it helps eliminate the hot spots.”
He walked over to me and placed his hands on either side of me. The electricity kicked on right as he was pulling down the collar of my shirt. He kissed the spot on my shoulder he always loves kissing and slowly slid his hands up my back. I swear, sometimes when he’s not even here I can still feel his lips on my collarbone.
He was about to kiss me on the mouth when we heard a car pull into the driveway and the garage door start to open. I jumped off the island, looking around the kitchen frantically. His hands went up to my cheeks and he made me look at him.
“Keep an eye on the cookies. They’ll be ﬁnished in about twenty minutes.” He pressed his lips to mine and then released me, rushing to the living room to grab his backpack. He made it out the back door right when I heard the engine to my father’s car shut off.
I started gathering all the ingredients together when my father walked into the kitchen from the garage. He looked around and then saw the light on in the oven.
“Are you cooking?” he asked.
I nodded because my heart was beating so fast, I was scared he’d hear the trembling in my voice if I responded out loud. I scrubbed for a moment at a spot on the counter that was perfectly clean. I cleared my throat and said, “Cookies. I’m baking cookies.”
He set his briefcase down on the kitchen table and then walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer.
“The electricity has been out,” I said. “I was bored so I decided to bake while I waited for it to come back on.”
My father sat down at the table and spent the next ten minutes asking me questions about school and if I’d thought about going to college. Occasionally when it was just the two of us, I saw glimpses of a how a normal relationship with a father could be. Sitting at the kitchen table with him discussing colleges and career choices and high school. As much as I hated him most of the time, I still longed for more of these moments with him. If he could just always be the guy he was capable of being in these moments, things would be so much different. For all of us.
I rotated the cookies like Atlas had said to do and when they were ﬁnished, I pulled them out of the oven. I took one off the cookie sheet and handed it to my father. I hated that I was being nice to him. It almost felt like I was wasting one of Atlas’s cookies.
“Wow,” my father said. “These are great, Lily.”
I forced a thank-you, even though I didn’t make them. I couldn’t very well tell him that, though.
“They’re for school so you can only have one,” I lied. I waited until the rest of them cooled and then I put them in a Tupperware container and took them to my room. I didn’t even want to try one without Atlas, so I waited until later last night when he came over.
“You should have tried one when they were hot,” he said. “That’s when they’re the best.”
“I didn’t want to eat them without you,” I said. We sat on the bed with our backs against the wall and proceeded to eat half the bowl of cookies. I told him they were delicious, but failed to tell him they were by far the greatest cookies I’d ever eaten. I didn’t want to inﬂate his ego. I kind of liked how humble he was.
I tried to grab at another one, but he pulled the bowl away and put the lid back on it. “If you eat too many you’ll make yourself sick and you won’t like my cookies anymore.”
I laughed. “Impossible.”
He took a drink of water and then stood up, facing the bed. “I made you something,” he said, reaching into his pocket.
“More cookies?” I asked.
He smiled and shook his head, then held out a ﬁst. I lifted my hand and he dropped something hard in the palm of my hand. It was a small, ﬂat outline of a heart, about two inches long, carved out of wood.
I rubbed my thumb over it, trying not to smile too big. It wasn’t an anatomically correct heart, but it also didn’t look like the hand-drawn hearts. It was uneven and hollow in the middle.
“You made this?” I asked, looking up at him.
He nodded. “I carved it with an old whittling knife I found at the house.”
The ends of the heart weren’t connected. They just curved in a little, leaving a little space at the top of the heart. I didn’t even know what to say. I felt him sit back down on the bed but I couldn’t stop looking at it long enough to even thank him.
“I carved it out of a branch,” he said, whispering. “From the oak tree in your backyard.”
I swear, Ellen. I never thought I could love something so much. Or maybe what I was feeling wasn’t for the gift, but for him. I closed my ﬁst around the heart and then leaned over and kissed him so hard, he fell back onto the bed. I threw my leg over him and straddled him and he grabbed my waist and grinned against my mouth.
“I’m gonna carve you a damn house out of that oak tree if this is the reward I get,” he whispered.
I laughed. “You have to stop being so perfect,” I told him. “You’re already my favorite person but now you’re making it really unfair to all the other humans because no one will ever be able to catch up to you.”
He brought his hand to the back of my head and rolled me until I was on my back and he was the one on top. “Then my plan is working,” he said, right before kissing me again.
I held on to the heart while we kissed, wanting to believe it was a gift for no reason at all. But part of me was scared it was a gift to remember him by when he leaves for Boston.
I didn’t want to remember him. If I had to remember him, it would mean he wasn’t a part of my life anymore.
I don’t want him to move to Boston, Ellen. I know that’s selﬁsh of me because he can’t keep living in that house. I don’t know what I’m more afraid might happen. Watching him leave or selﬁshly begging him not to go.
I know we need to talk about it. I’ll ask him about Boston tonight when he comes over. I just didn’t want to ask him last night because it was a
really perfect day.
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. He’s moving to Boston.
I don’t really feel like talking about it.
This is going to be a big one for my mother to hide.
My father is usually pretty cognizant of hitting her where it won’t leave a visible bruise. The last thing he probably wants is for people in the town to know what he does to her. I’ve seen him kick her a few times, choke her, hit her on the back and the stomach, pull her hair. The few times he’s hit her on the face, it’s always just been a slap, so the marks wouldn’t stay for long.
But never have I seen him do what he did last night.
It was really late when they got home. It was a weekend, so he and my mom went to some community function. My father has a real estate company and he’s also the town mayor, so they have to do things in the public a lot like go to charity dinners. Which is ironic, since my father hates charities. But I guess he has to save face.
Atlas was already in my room when they got home. I could hear them ﬁghting as soon as they walked through the front door. A lot of the conversation was mufﬂed, but for the most part, it sounded like my father was accusing her of ﬂirting with some man.
Now I know my mother, Ellen. She would never do something like that. If anything, a guy probably looked at her and it made my father jealous. My mother is really beautiful.
I heard him call her a whore and then I heard the ﬁrst blow. I started to climb out of my bed but Atlas pulled me back and told me not to go in there, that I might get hurt. I told him it actually helps sometimes. That when I go in there, my father backs off.
Atlas tried to talk me out of it, but ﬁnally I got up and went out into the living room.
I just . . .
He was on top of her.
They were on the couch and he had his hand around her throat, but his other hand was pulling up her dress. She was trying to ﬁght him off and I just stood there, frozen. She kept begging him to get off her and then he hit her right across the face and told her to shut up. I’ll never forget his words when he said, “You want attention? I’ll give you some fucking attention.” And that’s when she got real still and stopped ﬁghting him. I heard her crying, and then she said, “Please be quiet. Lily is here.”
She said, “Please be quiet.”
Please be quiet while you rape me, dear.
Ellen, I didn’t know one human was capable of feeling so much hate inside one heart. And I’m not even talking about my father. I’m talking about me.
I walked straight to the kitchen and I opened a drawer. I grabbed the biggest knife I could ﬁnd and . . . I don’t know how to explain it. It was like I wasn’t even in my own body. I could see myself walking across the kitchen with the knife in my hand, and I knew I wasn’t going to use it. I just wanted something bigger than myself that could scare him away from her. But right before I made it out of the kitchen, two arms went around my waist and picked me up from behind. I dropped the knife, and my father didn’t hear it but my mother did. We locked eyes as Atlas carried me back to my bedroom. When we were back inside my room, I just started hitting him in the chest, trying to get back out there to her. I was crying and doing everything I could to get him out of my way, but he wouldn’t move.
He just wrapped his arms around me and said, “Lily, calm down.” He kept saying it over and over, and he held me there for a long time until I accepted that he wasn’t gonna let me go back out there. He wasn’t gonna let me have that knife.
He walked over to the bed and grabbed his jacket and started putting on his shoes. “We’ll go next door,” he said. “We’ll call the police.”
My mother had warned me not to call the police in the past. She said it could jeopardize my father’s career. But in all honesty, I didn’t care at that point. I didn’t care that he was the mayor or that everyone who loved him didn’t know the awful side of him. The only thing I cared about was helping my mother, so I pulled on my jacket and went to the closet for a pair of shoes. When I stepped out of my closet, Atlas was staring at my bedroom door.
It was opening.
My mother stepped inside and quickly shut it, locking it behind her. I’ll never forget what she looked like. She had blood coming down from her lip. Her eye was already starting to swell, and she had a clump of hair just resting on her shoulder. She looked at Atlas and then me.
I didn’t even take a moment to feel scared that she caught me in my room with a boy. I didn’t care about that. I was just worried about her. I walked over to her and grabbed her hands and walked her to my bed. I brushed the hair off her shoulder and then from her forehead.
“He’s gonna go call the police, Mom. Okay?”
Her eyes grew real wide and she started shaking her head. “No,” she said. She looked over at Atlas and said, “You can’t. No.”
He was already at the window about to leave, so he stopped and looked at me.
“He’s drunk, Lily,” she said. “He heard your door shut, so he went to our bedroom. He stopped. If you call the police, it’ll just make it worse, believe me. Just let him sleep it off, it’ll be better tomorrow.”
I shook my head and could feel the tears stinging my eyes. “Mom, he was trying to rape you!”
She ducked her head and winced when I said that. She shook her head again and said, “It’s not like that, Lily. We’re married, and sometimes marriage is just . . . you’re too young to understand it.”
It got really quiet for a minute, and then I said. “I hope to hell I never do.”
That’s when she started to cry. She just held her head in her hands and she started to sob and all I could do was wrap my arms around her and cry with her. I’d never seen her this upset. Or this hurt. Or this scared. It broke my heart, Ellen.
It broke me.
When she was ﬁnished crying, I looked around the room and Atlas had left. We went to the kitchen and I helped her clean up her lip and her eye. She never did say anything about him being there. Not one thing. I waited for her to tell me I was grounded, but she never did. I realized that maybe she didn’t acknowledge it because that’s what she does. Things that hurt her just get swept under the rug, never to be brought up again.
I think I’m ready to talk about Boston now.
He left today.
I’ve shufﬂed my deck of cards so many times, my hands hurt. I’m scared if I don’t get out how I feel on paper, I’ll go crazy holding it all in.
Our last night didn’t go over so well. We kissed a lot at ﬁrst, but we were both too sad to really care about it. For the second time in two days, he told me he changed his mind and that he wasn’t leaving. He didn’t want to leave me alone in this house. But I’ve lived with these parents for almost sixteen years. It was silly of him to turn down a home in favor of being homeless, just because of me. We both knew that, but it still hurt.
I tried to not be so sad about it, so when we were lying there, I asked him to tell me about Boston. I told him maybe one day when I got out of school, I could go there.
He got this look in his eye when he started talking about it. A look I’d never seen. Sort of like he was talking about heaven. He told me about how everyone has the greatest accents there. Instead of car, they say cah. He must not realize that he sometimes says his r’s like that, too. He said he lived there from the ages of nine until he was fourteen, so I guess maybe he picked up a little bit of the accent.
He told me about how his uncle lives in an apartment building with the coolest rooftop deck.
“A lot of apartments have them,” he said. “Some even have pools.”
Plethora, Maine, probably didn’t even have a building that was tall enough for a rooftop deck. I wondered what it would feel like to be that high up. I asked him if he ever went up there and he said yes. That when he was younger, sometimes he would go to the roof and just sit up there and think while he looked out over the city.
He told me about the food. I already knew he liked to cook but I had no idea how much passion he had for it. I guess because he doesn’t have a stove or a kitchen, so other than the cookies he baked me, he’s never really talked about cooking before.
He told me about the harbor and how, before his mother remarried, she used to take him ﬁshing out there. “I mean, Boston isn’t any different from any other big city, I guess,” he said. “There’s not a lot that makes it stand out. It’s just . . . I don’t know. There’s a vibe. A really good energy. When people say they live in Boston, they’re proud of it. I miss that sometimes.”
I ran my ﬁngers through his hair and said, “Well, you make it sound like the best place in the world. Like everything is better in Boston.”
He looked at me and his eyes were sad when he said. “Everything is almost better in Boston. Except the girls. Boston doesn’t have you.”
That made me blush. He kissed me real sweet and then I said to him, “Boston doesn’t have me yet. Someday I’ll move there and I’ll ﬁnd you.”
He made me promise. Said if I moved to Boston, everything really would be better there and it would be the best city in the world.
We kissed some more. And did other things that I won’t bore you with.
Although, that’s not to say they were boring.
They were not.
But then this morning I had to tell him goodbye. And he held me and kissed me so much, I thought I might die if he let go.
But I didn’t die. Because he let go and here I am. Still living. Still breathing.
I ﬂip to the next page, but then slam the book shut. There’s only one more entry and I don’t know that I really feel like reading it right now. Or ever. I put the journal back in my closet, knowing that my chapter with Atlas is over. He’s happy now.
I’m happy now.
Time can deﬁnitely heal all wounds. Or at least most of them.
I turn off my lamp and then pick up my phone to plug it in. I have two missed text messages from Ryle and one from my mother.
Ryle: Hey. Naked Truth commencing in 3 . . . 2 . . .
Ryle: I was worried that being in a relationship would add to my responsibilities. That’s why I’ve avoided them my whole life. I already have enough on my plate, and seeing the stress my parents’ marriage seemed to cause them, and the failed marriages of some of my friends, I wanted no part in something like that. But after tonight, I realized that maybe a lot of people are just doing it wrong. Because what’s happening between us doesn’t feel like a responsibility. It feels like a reward. And I’ll fall asleep wondering what I did to deserve it.
I pull my phone to my chest and smile. Then I screenshot the text because I’m keeping it forever. I open up the third text message.
Mom: A doctor, Lily? AND your own business? I want to be you when I grow up.
I screen-shot that one, too.