Andrew has turned behind me but hasn’t moved away. In fact, he snakes an arm around my waist, pulling my back to his front. “Theo. Hey.”
“Hey.” Theo gestures between us. “So—is this a thing?”
“Yeah. It is.” Andrew lets that sink in before adding, “You okay, man?”
Theo studies us for several painful beats. “Not sure what to say.” He looks at my hands over where Andrew’s fingers rest gently on my stomach. “You’ve clearly kept it from everyone.”
“It’s new,” I say.
“Couple days. Or maybe years,” Andrew jokes, smiling down at me. “It’s hard to say.”
I want to be charmed, but that may be the worst thing Andrew could have said right now.
Theo looks directly at me. “Mae, do you have a second to talk?”
In all practicality, I’ve already lived this day once before. I might have all the time in the world. Even if there are seven million things I would rather be doing. “Sure?”
I look over my shoulder at Andrew, and he releases me, giving me a small nod. Theo is already halfway to the door, and I have no choice but to follow, leaving Andrew behind.
My mind is vibrating with nerves; it feels like I have no more words in my head. The night with Theo feels like a hundred years ago, but I worry it will forever color how I see him. And I can’t even tell him about it.
Out on the street, Theo keeps walking—passing a diner, a small art gallery, a few other stores until we reach a quieter stretch of Main Street. He turns to face me, leaning against the front of a closed-up shop with sandstone bricks, wood trim, windows papered over. He tilts his head back, staring skyward.
“I don’t even know how to start,” he says. “I’m still trying to figure out how to react.”
“I’m sorry you found out like that.”
He laughs, running a hand through his hair and looking past me down the street. It’s so cold, but I’m not sure if the color that blooms in his cheeks is from the way the temperature seems to be dropping by the second or from anger. A car drives by. A couple with happy smiles and shopping bags approaches on the sidewalk, and Theo and I step out of the way to let them pass.
Finally, he says, “I feel so stupid.”
I’m already shaking my head. “No, don’t. It surprised me, too.”
“We were tight, Mae,” he says. “You and me. We were always closer than you and Andrew.”
“When we were kids, yeah,” I agree carefully. Another car passes, and another close behind it honking loudly at some pedestrians who unexpectedly step into the street. “But as friends. Theo, we were only friends.”
“Have you always liked him that way?”
Forever? I want to say. “A long time.”
I can tell this surprises him, and color makes its way down his neck. “Did he know?”
“Before this week?” I ask. “No.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t tell anyone.”
“Except Benny,” he guesses.
“Benny knows everything.”
He takes a few slow breaths. “I just—” He laughs again. “I don’t know how to say this so I guess I’ll just come out with it: I feel like you led me on.”
What the hell? My heart has spent a lot of time racing lately, but not like this. Not out of anger and indignation. “How did I lead you on? By being your friend—”
My words are cut off when, not ten feet away, a brilliant explosion of sound, shimmering in its proximity and volume, cuts through the icy air. We both startle violently; a car has run the stop sign and hit another at full speed. It is a blast of metal crunching and glass cracking, of tires screaming on asphalt. Theo dives on me, covering me as something is propelled toward us, shattering the window just behind where my head was only a second ago.
We sit up, dazed. My ears are ringing, and after a hiccupping inhale, adrenaline dumps into my bloodstream. My entire body starts to shake.
“Are you okay?” Theo asks, and his voice sounds like it’s coming through a hollow metal tube.
Numbly, I nod. “Are you?”
We stare out at the accident, at steam rising from both cars. My attention catches on a patch of green—a mangled wreath and red velvet ribbon tied to the hood of the larger car.
In the commotion, people pour out of storefronts, crowding around the crash, making sure everyone is okay. What was once a mass of chatting, dawdling, laughing late-shoppers is now a street full of onlookers standing with their hands over their mouths as the drivers emerge, stumbling, from the surprising ruins of their cars.
Theo helps me to my feet, but even once I’m standing— legs shaking beneath me—I can’t move from where I’m rooted. That debris was meant for me, I know it. I’ve done something wrong, taken a bad turn somewhere, and I have no idea what it was, or what’s coming for me next.
But it was a warning.
My time here, in this version of reality, is running out.
I step away from the broken glass and shards of metal that litter the sidewalk nearby, Theo moving behind me. Once the onlookers’ attention moves from the accident in the street to the aftermath all around us, a fair amount of concern is thrown our way, as the two bodies in the immediate vicinity of the crash.
With the scavenger hunt now completely forgotten, our families frantically run over as soon as they spot us in the middle of the chaos. For a few minutes following the relief that no one was gravely injured, Theo and I are drowning in the adrenaline of what everyone saw, what happened, and how close it was. Andrew hugs me, checks that I’m okay, and presses breathless lips to my hair until the others crowd in for their turn. But smack in the center of my stomach is a leaden ball of dread.
I search for him again, seeking his arms and steadying I gaze, but it’s already locked in silent communication with his brother. Very quietly, Andrew says, “I don’t understand why you’re mad.”
“Don’t lie, Drew. You get it.” Theo digs his hands into his pockets and looks around self-consciously as the rest of the group falls into a hush, realizing there’s another conversation happening.
Ricky steps closer, putting a hand on each of their shoulders. “Hey. Guys. What’s happening here?”
Theo shrugs out of Ricky’s grip. “Stay out of it, Dad.”
Ricky frowns. “What am I missing?”
I want to disappear. My eyes shoot skyward. Kidding!
Theo lifts his chin to Andrew. “Go ahead. You tell him.”
Andrew shakes his head. “Not right now. Not the time.”
“Tell me what?” Ricky asks.
Andrew looks at me then, his expression searching for permission, and I feel the way awareness spreads in a silent wave around the circle. Maybe it’s how Miles looks down at the ground, or Benny steps closer to me, shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, but anyone with even a modicum of emotional intelligence must know what’s being left unsaid.
Well, I guess except Ricky. “Seriously. What’s going on?”
“Maybe we can do this when we get home,” Benny says quietly.
I look gratefully at Benny—the last thing I want is a scene, and I’d prefer to tell my mom myself—but Theo exhales sharply: “Mae and Andrew are hooking up.”
What reaction he was expecting, I have no idea. But the group falls deadly silent before swinging their collective attention to me and Andrew.
“What is considered ‘hooking up’ these days?” Lisa asks quietly, and my stomach drops in mortification.
“Wait,” Ricky says. “Sorry, I feel like I missed something.”
“Whatever.” Theo turns to walk down the sidewalk. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Theo.” I chase after him, jogging to keep up with his long strides, and reach out to grab the sleeve of his jacket, but he tugs free. “Wait.”
I hop over a patch of ice and slow to a bewildered stop in front of a small ice cream shop that’s closed for the season. Is he seriously just running away?
“Theo!” I shout, but he keeps going. I take another step and then freeze at the sound of a metallic groan, followed immediately by a cacophonous crash just behind me.
Turning, heart hammering inside my chest, I see that the metal frame beneath the shop’s awning has crumpled, plummeting to the sidewalk not a foot away from where I stand. The innocent patch of ice I stepped around is now buried beneath it.
I turn my face up to the sky. “What?” I throw my arms out. “What am I supposed to do? Am I not supposed to follow Theo? Am I supposed to just stand near Andrew? What! Just tell me!”
Benny comes over, a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Mae. Honey. Calm down, it was just an accident.”
“It wasn’t, though.” Hysteria has taken over my brain, my blood, my pulse. It pours through me, silvery and hot, obliterating anything rational or measured. “The car crash? This?” I motion wildly at the twisted mess of fabric and metal. “Clearly it was my fault.”
Dad steps forward, gently murmuring, “Mae,” with Andrew right at his side. “Honey, what’s wrong?” He looks to Benny. “What is she talking about?”
Andrew comes close, putting his hands on my shoulders. “Maisie. What’s going on?”
I look past him to Benny. “I can’t act like this isn’t happening anymore. It’s exhausting. I don’t know how to keep the act up.”
Benny gives me a helpless look.
I turn to Andrew, and then my dad and my brother. I scan my eyes across the group. “I’m stuck in some sort of time loop, and I don’t know how to get out of it. I mean,” I say, “a few days ago, I wanted out of it so bad. But now I don’t want to mess it up.”
Andrew takes my hand. “What are you talking about?”