She knew what Atlas meant. She hadn’t even known it was possible to be this happy. It was as if her entire life she’d lived in a world with limits, and then suddenly she’d discovered the way into a vaster, better, brighter world.
A message scrolled across her vision. What are you up to? Eris had written. Avery muttered under her breath, composing a reply, “Sorry, I’m just staying in and watching movies with Atlas.”
“Eris,” she said by way of explanation, because of course he’d heard her.
Atlas nodded. “You can invite her over, if you want,” he said, but Avery shook her head.
“And make you put on a shirt? I don’t think so.”
She felt Atlas smile against her hair. “How’s Eris doing, with all her family stuff?” he asked. He’d been there, of course, for the whole debacle at Eris’s birthday.
“I think she’s good, actually,” Avery said, which was true. Eris had seemed better these days, her whole demeanor more buoyant. “She’s even starting to see someone downTower. I’ve been dying to meet her.”
“Cord can’t be too happy about that,” Atlas guessed, but Avery shook her head.
“Cord was the one who broke up with Eris, I think.”
“Really? That must be a first.” Eris was notorious for being the one to end relationships whenever things got complicated. She’d done it to at least two of Atlas’s friends last year.
Avery flipped onto her other side, so that her face was just inches from Atlas’s. “You know, Eris asked me something this week, about why I’ve been so happy lately.”
“Oh yeah? What did you tell her?”
“That I have a new yoga instructor,” Avery said, with mock seriousness.
“Yoga? Is that my code name?” Atlas leaned in to kiss her, and Avery pressed her body up against his, kissing him back.
They lay there contentedly, their breathing soft and even, neither of them eager to move. “Atlas,” Avery ventured after a while, “when did you know that you loved me?”
“I’ve always loved you,” he said earnestly.
“I mean, when did you truly realize it?”
Atlas shook his head. “I’ve known it forever. Why, did you have a moment in mind?”
Avery bit her lip; now she felt silly for bringing it up, but Atlas was looking at her expectantly. “It was one day after school. You probably won’t even remember,” she told him. “We walked across the street together to the lift line, but then you were going downTower to the hockey rink for practice and I was heading home. I stood there waiting, and I could see you across the empty elevator shaft. I don’t think you looked over at me …” She hesitated for a moment, remembering how Atlas had been illuminated from behind, the light streaming out to gild the edges of his form. “For some reason the thought that we were heading different directions made me sad. I know it sounds stupid,” she said, rushing to get the words out. “But looking at you in that moment, I just thought, I never want to be apart from him.”
“That wasn’t what I expected you to say,” Atlas admitted.
“I just thought you’d have some big, dramatic, epic moment. But I like this better.”
She nodded, twining her hand in his. She could feel new calluses on his palm, right at the base of each finger, from all the hard labor he’d done this year. She wanted to kiss them all, one by one.
“Ready to go to sleep?” Atlas asked.
“We haven’t finished the movie,” Avery protested, though of course they hadn’t really been watching. But Atlas didn’t argue, knowing what she meant. She didn’t want to go to bed because that meant the end of another day—which meant that they were one day closer to the return of reality. It had been so fun recently with their parents gone, playing house, not worrying about being caught. She glanced around at the blissful chaos that had taken over their apartment: discarded plates of food and pillows thrown off the couch and Atlas’s shirt wadded in a corner.
Avery knew she was going to miss this, when her parents got back. She’d been trying to ignore the reality of their situation, but the ugly truth of it was always there, looming in the corners of her mind. Because no matter what she and Atlas did, their relationship couldn’t amount to more than this—stolen, secret moments whenever they could manage it. They could never have a life together.
“What was your favorite place you went this year?” She sat up, trying to distract herself from those thoughts.
Atlas considered the question. “I went so many place, Aves. Pretty much anywhere I knew it would be hard to find me. Cuba, the Arctic, Budapest. I worked on a wilderness lodge in the Amazon and a ranch in New Zealand. I was a bartender in Africa for a while,” he added, with a nod to her necklace.
“That sounds lonely,” Avery whispered.
“It was. Especially since I was trying to forget about you,” Atlas said, and there was a hurt in his voice she didn’t like. She wondered how many girls Atlas had slept with in his quest to forget about her, then ushered that thought swiftly from her mind. It didn’t matter, not anymore.
“But there was one place in particular that I really loved. An island in Indonesia that the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten about, with this insanely white sand and water so clear you can see straight through to the bottom. The town is small, with colored tiled roofs, and they eat nothing but fish and rice and rum. But they’re all happy. I worked on a fishing boat there for a while.”