He takes my hand and kisses the palm. “My dad apologized to us after he hit her the first time.” He pushes the sentence out on a single breath. It takes me second to realize what he’s talking about.
“He was crying.”
The night is so dark that I feel rather than see him shake his head.
“They sat us down together and he said he was sorry. He said it would never happen again. I remember Kara was so angry she wouldn’t even look at him. She knew he was a liar, but I believed him. My mom did, too. She told us to forget all about it. She said, ‘Your father has been through a lot.’ She said that she forgave him and that we should, too.”
He gives me my hand back. “He didn’t hit her again for another year. He drank too much. He yelled at her. He yelled at all of us. But he didn’t hit her again for a long time.”
I hold my breath for a moment and ask the question I’ve been wanting to ask. “Why doesn’t she leave him?”
He snorts and his tone turns hard. “Don’t think I haven’t asked her.” He lies back in the sand, links his hands behind his head. “I think that if he hit her more often, she would leave him. If he were just a little more of a b*****d maybe we could finally go. But he’s always sorry, and she always believes him.”
I put my hand on his stomach, needing the contact. I think maybe he needs it, too, but then he sits up, pulls his knees into his chest, and rests his elbows on them. His body forms a cage that I can’t get into.
“What does she say when you ask her?”
“Nothing. She won’t talk about it anymore. She used to say that we’d understand when we’re older and in our own relationships.”
I’m surprised by the anger in his voice. I never guessed that he was angry at his mother. His father, yes, but not her.
He snorts again. “She says love makes people crazy.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Yes. No. Maybe.”
“You’re not supposed to use all the answers,” I say.
He smiles in the dark. “Yes, I believe it.”
“I’m all the way here in Hawaii with you. It’s not easy for me to leave them alone with him.”
I tamp down my guilt before it can rise.
“Do you believe it?” he asks.
“I’m all the way here in Hawaii with you,” I say, repeating his words. “I never would’ve left my house if it weren’t for you.”
“So,” he says. He lowers his legs and takes my hand. “What do we do now?”
I don’t know the answer to this question. The only thing I know for sure is that this, being here with Olly, being able to love him and be loved by him, is everything.
“You should leave them,” I say. “It’s not safe for you there.” I say it because he doesn’t know it. He’s trapped by the same memory of love, of better times, that his mother is, and it isn’t enough.
I rest my head on his shoulder and we watch the near-dark ocean together. We watch the way the water pulls back and turns over and beats against the sand, trying to wear the earth away. And even though it doesn’t succeed, it pulls back and pounds the shore again and again, as if there were no last time and there is no next time and this time is the time that counts.
Someone has put me in a hot oven and locked the door.
Someone has doused me in kerosene and lit a match.
I come awake slowly with my body on fire, consumed in flames. The sheets are cold and damp. I’m drowning in sweat.
What’s happening to me? It takes a moment before I realize that there are many, many things wrong.
I’m shivering. I’m more than shivering. I’m shaking uncontrollably and my head hurts. My brain is being squeezed in a vise. Pain radiates out and crashes into the nerves behind my eyes.
My body is a fresh bruise. Even my skin hurts.
At first I think I must be dreaming, but my dreams are never this lucid. I try to sit up, to pull the blankets closer, but I can’t. Olly’s still asleep and lying on top of them.
I try again to sit up, but pain buries itself deep in my bones.
The vise around my brain tightens and now there’s an ice pick stabbing indiscriminately at the soft flesh.
I try to cry out but my throat is raw, as if I’d been screaming for days and days.
I’m more than sick. I’m dying.
Oh, God. Olly.
This is going to break his heart.
He awakes as soon as I think it. “Mad?” he asks into the dark.
He turns on the bedside lamp and my eyes burn. I squeeze them shut and try to turn away. I don’t want him to see me like this, but it’s too late. I watch his face go from confusion, to recognition, to disbelief. Then terror.