I am so sorry! Life has been insane here. I have been extremely sick with something we cannot identify (there was a brief but horrible few weeks where we thought it was brain tumors…) but now I am here.
Henry found himself confused that afternoon, unable to find Maggie. She had been in class all day, so she could not have gone home early due to being sick or anything. He sat patiently, waiting for her in his normal spot underneath the oak tree. Where is she? She would not just go home without telling me, would she?
All of a sudden he remembered that they had taken her car. Was she waiting for him? Had she already gone home? He went back to the parking lot, and saw that her car was still where he had left it that morning. He wandered inside, thinking he would stop by her locker and look in to see if she had grabbed her stuff.
He had just turned the corner that lead to the hallway her locker was on when he saw her, sitting crouched against the locker with her knees to her chest. At first, he was stuck by how similar she looked to the way she had been that day when he found her in the bathroom. He started walking quietly, worried that he would disturb her. Then he realized he could hear her breathing from where he was, loud and choking. He launched himself forward at what he assumed would be an illegal speed on the road.
He skidded to a stop a few feet in front of her, pulling his entire upper body in a vertical line as he tried to halt the momentum that he had built up. He somewhat succeeded, managing to slow himself down to the point that he only had to flail out his arms to stop him from sprawling on the waxed floor. "Maggie? Are you okay?"
She looked up at him, surprised, her beautiful brown eyes full of confusion. Tears were streaming out of her eyes, but it did not look like she had been crying. Her eyes were not red enough. He had seen her cry before, and this was not what it looked like. This was very different. But her eyes were too bright, and her face was flushed, and he could not tell why. "Henry? What are you doing?"
Sighing, he sat down next to her without another word. Instead, he reached out and pulled her to him in a hug. He felt her stiffen for a moment, and then she relaxed, coughing once.
She had not expected him to come sprinting around the corner like there was a hyena on his heels. He had told her about that story, and she could imagine he had the same panic-struck look on his face in that moment as he did in this one. She could understand being afraid of a hyena, but could not understand what was happening now.
Then he had sat down next to her. She wanted to ask him what was happening, but she was stalled when she looked at him, at the crazed look in his eyes that relaxed when she had looked up at him. And then he had hugged her.
Maggie did not do hugs. It was one of the things that her Margaret self and her Maggie self agreed on. Hugs were awkward and weird and overused in general society. For a few seconds she wanted to fight him off. But then she stopped herself. He loved her, or so Jasper Bartlett told her. Margaret was not even a real person, anyway. She was just a mix of lies and misconceptions that other people had made before and she had slipped into. And she loved him, as her heart would not stop telling her. As much as she distrusted Jasper, there had been too much sincerity in his eyes for that statement to be false. So she relaxed.
"Are you alright?" Henry asked, holding her a distance away from himself so that he could look at her. "I was so worried about you. Did the coughing start up?"
She felt her heart sink back down, and she disentangled herself from his eyes. "Yeah. I used my inhaler though, so I am all right. Thank you for coming to check on me." It was a mistake. Maybe Jasper had been mistaken. Maybe…maybe…maybe he was just concerned for her as a friend. She stood up, grabbing her backpack. "Shall we go?"
Henry nodded, and they left, heading back out into the car. For a few seconds, neither of them spoke, and when the conversation started back up, she was sure that he could tell her heart was not in it.
Henry felt both happy and sad. He was happy for obvious reasons. She was all right. His fear t hat she had somehow managed to go off into the hallway and die without giving him a chance to try to save her was unfounded. And she had even let him hug her for a few seconds.
But that brought him back to why he was sad. For a few seconds, she had seemed so glad to see him, and had let him hug her, and had even seemed glad to be hugged. But then she had pulled away. Had he been mistaken, or had her mask that she used to hide behind gone up in that moment. Had he made her sad?
He kept glancing at her, starting at her as she drove, admiring the focus that would alight in her eyes, and the way that her small hands held the steering wheel as though she was in control, as opposed to the clenched, frightened way that Jasper held it. Jasper acted like his precious car had homicidal tendencies. Maggie turned to look at him. "What are you staring at, Henry?"
"Are you sad?" he asked bluntly. "You look sort of sad."
She shook her head. "No. I am okay. A little breathless, but I am okay. How about yourself? You seem really quiet."
"I am okay." What did I do wrong?
How does he read me like this, the one person that I wish could not? Maggie had never been an open book. She had always been able to hide her pain and sadness behind a mask of indifference. How had Henry managed to breach her defenses so easily, and at such a wrong moment?
She could tell that he was not really okay, and she knew it must be because of something that she had done. What had she done? She had not said anything that could have made him feel awkward. She felt terrible, and focused her eyes out of the front window, making sure that if she had to make him sad somehow, she at least could keep his bones intact.
Henry told her to drop him off at her house. She had been uncertain, but had let him go. He had no idea what to say or do, and was glad for the space. However, he did not want her to be able to tell, it would only make her even more sad and awkward. "I will see you tomorrow morning?" He left the invitation open, a question.
"Of course," she had replied. He had smiled at that. "I will see you, Henry."
He nodded and left, braving the cold. His whole way home, he puzzled over the conversation, the situation, and his whole life. He had been sure that she had loved him in that moment that they had hugged. Now he was not sure of anything at all.
Maggie had sat in the car for a full hour, just looking at her hands. What was she doing? What was happening to her? Her, of all people! Falling in love, puzzling over a boy, unable to figure out his feelings. Boys had always been so straightforward; they either loved or hated you.
They had always hated her. She grabbed her backpack and went inside. Her dad was not home. She had the house to herself. Her father was gone for the week. A cough rumbled in her chest, and she let it build up and burst out without fighting it. It hurt less that way.
She made herself some tea, and sat on the counter and waited for it to steep. When she remembered it, the water was nearly black. She checked the time, and forty-five minutes had gone by. "What is happening to you, Maggie?" she asked with her Margaret voice. Then she shook her head and stopped herself.
A strange idea, a Henry-idea, entered her head at that moment. She went outside, staring at the giant tree in her front lawn. "You sure?" she asked herself.
Then she began to climb, something she had never been enough of a child to do. She climbed so high that she could see inside her bedroom window, so high that she could see the top of her roof, and then even higher, until she could feel the tree shaking, herself shaking. And she looked out among the trees and the sky, and she felt close to Henry.
Okay, Henry. I am up here in your part of the world. Being reckless. And it is beautiful.
She contemplated climbing a branch higher, and branch farther into the sky, but then she felt the branch she was on grind and snap uncomfortably, and she realized that she was going to fall.
She could see a tiny figure on the ground, and she thought she recognized Henry's hair. "Henry!"
The figure looked up.
Henry had felt horrible about leaving without talking to her, and so he had turned around after putting the backpack in his house. He had managed to avoid Jasper, much to his delight.
He found himself close to her house, and paused, trying to figure out what he was going to say. He found himself looking up at the tree near her house. There was a small shape in the tree, extremely high up.
He came closer to the tree, still looking up at the spot.
"Henry!" a voice came down.
He felt his heart stutter. "Maggie? Are you up there?"
"Yes," she responded. He could see her clinging to the branch. The branch she was on was swaying, and he could tell that she was going to fall.
"Hang on, I am coming up." He started climbing up the tree, trying to go as quickly as he could. Here he was, in his element, trying to keep someone he loved safe. "Keep holding on. You cannot let go, okay!"
She nodded. The branch creaked above him. He climbed higher, and was just under her. He reached up and put his arms around her waist. "Careful, Maggie. Can you drop down and sit on your branch for me?"
"It will break," she said, hardly daring to breathe.
She sat down, and the branch snapped, rotten under her tiny frame. He yanked her forward just as the branch went out from under her, and she momentarily was hanging in mid-air. "Henry!"
He yanked her back up, and she grabbed him, holding on to him as tight as she could. He held onto her, and they both sat there. He could feel her heart beat against his chest.
The world shivered around them.