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.

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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.


Dear Ellen,

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.

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