“How are you?”
“Hanging in there.” I smiled, leaning forward and resting my elbows on the wrought iron rails. “How about you?”
“Trying not to hang.” His eyes sparkled as he mirrored my position, laying his chin in his hands. “How’s your book going?”
I growled and slid to the gravely floor of my balcony, looking at him through the rails. “It’s taking forever. I’ve edited most of it, but Peter won’t obey the plotline.”
“A rebel child.” He laughed.
“Exactly.” I couldn’t help joining in his laughter. My mom thought I was insane when I talked about my characters like real people. I talked to them, told them what to do. They had minds of their own. But no, I wouldn’t dare tell anyone about it lest they think there was something wrong with my head.
Except Simon, he got me. He didn’t write much himself, and he hated to read. He was obsessed with skiing and Netherland cows, and knew way too much about the paralympic games. But he never questioned my sanity when I told him that Clara’s boyfriend had gotten her a stuffed keychain toy when Clara wasn’t real.
“So did you put him in time out?” Simon started picking at the rusted black paint chipping off the rails on his balcony.
“I couldn’t catch him.” I shrugged, brushing the gravel from my thigh where my shorts were too short to cover. “He ran off with some friends. I don’t think I’ll be hearing from him any time soon.”
“Bummer. He seemed like such a nice guy.” He winked.
“He’s not.” I was discouraged, “If he doesn’t work with me I’ll never get this book out there.”
“Yes you will. I know you will.” Simon’s attention sharpened on me. “You have to get it done. Aren’t you on your second stage of editing? At this point he’s not really important, other than to taunt you over your shoulder.”
I couldn’t help smiling as I pulled a loose thread on my shorts. “True.”
“He didn’t run off. You kicked him out so he would stop messing with the masterpiece you’re working on.”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“That’s exactly how it works.”
I laughed again, his pep talk pulling me out of my funk. “How would you know? You’ve never written a story in your life.”
“Have to! In fifth grade I wrote about a mermaid shark. My teacher didn’t like my grammar but the class loved it.”
I shook my head. “The class loved you, not the story.”
“Whatever,” He grinned at me, “Same difference.”
The shadows of the apartment around us already cast a cool air from the setting sun. His bright eyes still shone when he looked at me, but his rumpled sweatshirt and frizzy hair faded into the darkness.
For a split second I let myself long to be in his arms. For just a second I wondered what it would be like to rest against his broad chest and let him hold me close. I glanced up at him through the rails and wondered if he minded the distance like I did.
Just like that I swatted away the thought.
“How long do you think this is going to last?” I asked aloud. How long do you think we’ll talk every night? How long before you get bored of me? How long before the world goes back to normal and you forget about Clara and Peter and me?
“I heard the president say they’re going to be doing a soft open in some states.” He sighed and swiped his hand through his hair. “I hope it won’t be too long. I miss my cousins and Luke and my friends.” His eyes flickered and he looked at me. “I mean my other friends.”
I grinned to hide the ache in my chest. “Me too. I can’t imagine being stuck in the house much longer.”
“At least you have something you can work on at home.” He stuck out his tongue, making me laugh again. “I have my old car models, Dufus, and Pickles.”
“And your Mom.” I added, trying to be helpful.
“And my mom.” He shrugged.
“You can start a vlog. People are desperate for something to watch.”
“How can you even suggest that? I’m so awkward in front of a camera!” He was mortified.
“Even better! You’ll be a hoot to watch. I’ll be your first subscriber.” I scrambled up from the floor and brushed off my legs again. “I’ll go get my phone and I can take your very first vlog. I’ll text it to you so you can publish it.” An idea dawned in me. “Or better yet! It can be a vlog about you by me!”
Simon held up his hands defensively, “Please no, please no.”
I was already in the house, laughing all the way to my room. I grabbed my phone and came back outside, only just realizing how dark it was.
“I was gonna say, it’s too dark for any videos tonight.” He grinned smartly, thinking he’d won.
I swiped to the camera carefully, avoiding cutting my fingertips on the cracked screen, and hit record. “What’s the first thing you want to tell people? They can’t see anything right now, they’ll just hear your voice.”
Simon was silent and I glanced around my phone at him, my eyes adjusted to the darkness. He sat there with his hands balled tightly in his lap, eyes on me, saying without words that he wouldn’t be part of this.
I shrugged and clicked it off, dropping it in the back pocket of my shorts. “Maybe we can try another time.”
“No.” His voice was rich, deep now. “No Amber. Not everyone sees me like you do. They’ll only see one thing, and you know I hate talking about it.”
I glanced to his legs and then back to his eyes, wishing I was close enough to touch his face. “There’s a lot more of you than just that.”
“That’s all they’ll see.” He took a deep breath, the sparkle in his Simon eyes dimmed in the darkness.
A single yellow light flickered on between our balconies as the stars came out, and moths started to collect around the strands of web, flying into the cracked plastic cover over and over again.
I was sorry now that I’d mentioned it. “That’s not all I see,” I told him, knowing my dad would be home from his shift soon and I’d have to go inside for the night. “I see your messy hair and your strong arms and your gorgeous jawline and gentle hands--” My tongue felt swollen as I realized I was telling him everything a girl wasn’t supposed to notice about a friend.
He threw his head back and laughed out loud again. “I didn’t know I was such a hunk to you.”
I fought the urge to cover my face and let myself smile, hoping the yellow light would hide the flushed red of my cheeks. “Sorry, that’s not how I meant it. You’re not all that. I mean you are, I mean--” I threw my arms around my head. “I’ll shut up now.”
The sound of his chuckle warmed my heart and felt like home. I took a deep breath and peeked through my arms.
“It’s okay Amber.” His eyes were sparkling again, sparkling at me this time. “I know what you mean.”
I dropped my arms and hugged myself against the growing cool of the night.
“I’d give you my sweater if I didn’t risk dropping it three stories.”
“And never getting it back.” I was glad for the change in conversation. “It’s fine. I have to go in soon. Plus you get cold way easier than I do.”
Simon shrugged, grinning at me. “It’s probably true.”
“But thanks.” I glanced into my house through the glass slider door and let my insides settle. “Dad’s home. I have to go.”
Simon nodded, “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
I shrugged, “Probably. Unless he got it off. We might need to go grocery shopping.” I paused a second. “Text me a list of things you need, we can grab them too.”
“Thanks. I think Mom would appreciate that.” He worked his wheelchair sideways so he could go back inside. “Have a good night Amber.” He held out his arms in front of him. “Air hug.”
I cracked a smile and held out my arms. “Air hug.” I watched him maneuver the bulky thing with ease, waved a little, and listened for the squeal of his slider shutting.
I took a deep breath and looked straight up, the only way to see the night sky in the cramped apartment complex I called home. A star burned across the little window amongst the buildings, and I caught my breath, wishing.
Wishing Simon was okay with the fact that he’d never walk again.
Wishing we didn’t have to be stuck in our seperate homes for days at a time.
Wishing I could hug him. For real.