“I know what you’ll tell me,” I say at last. “I can’t read his mind and I shouldn’t try. But how can I not think about it? He kissed me. I mean…sort of. On paper.” I shrug, feeling a bit embarrassed. “You probably think it doesn’t count.”
“Not at all,” says Dr. Sarah seriously. “The fact that it was on paper doesn’t lessen it. A kiss is a kiss.”
“And now I haven’t heard from him and I have no idea what he’s thinking, and it stresses me out…” Dr. Sarah doesn’t reply immediately, and I sigh. “I know, I know. I have an illness and it’s fully treatable.”
There’s another long silence. Dr. Sarah’s mouth is twitching.
“You know, Audrey?” she says at last. “I hate to break it to you, but getting stressed over what boys are thinking after they’ve kissed you may not be fully treatable. Not fully.”
And then, three days after Starbucks, I’m sitting watching TV peacefully on my own when Frank comes stomping into the den and says, “Linus is here.”
“Oh, right.” I sit up in a fluster. “Really? He’s here? But…” I swallow. “You’re not allowed to play LOC, so…I mean, why is he…”
“He wants to see you.” Frank sounds fairly unimpressed by this fact. “Is that OK? You won’t freak out?”
“No. Yes. I mean…that’s fine.”
“Good, because he’s here. Lin-us!”
Some brothers would give their sister a chance to brush their hair. Or at least change out of the scaggy old T-shirt they’ve been in all day. I’m sending murderous thought waves to Frank as Linus comes into the den and says cautiously, “Hi. Wow, it’s dark in here.”
Everyone in the family has got so used to my darkened den, I forget how it must look to other people. I keep the blackout curtains closed and the lights off, and the only illumination is the flickering telly. And then I feel safe. Safe enough to take my dark glasses off.
“No, it’s fine. You really are rhubarb.”
“That’s my name.” I see him smile through the darkness. There’s a glow on his teeth from the TV, and his eyes are two shining chinks.
I’m sitting in my customary place on the carpet and after a moment he comes over and sits down next to me. I mean, not right next to me. He’s about a foot away. I think my skin must be able to send out signals like a bat, because I’m totally aware of his position in relation to mine. And all the time my head is buzzing with the thought: He kissed me. On paper. Kind of. He kissed me.
“What are you watching?” He stares at the telly, where a woman in a tailored dress is trying to find things to say about kelp shampoo. “Is that QVC?”
“Yes. I find the conversations soothing.”
QVC is the most calming TV I know. You have three people in a studio and they all think the moisturiser is great. No-one argues the point or raises their voice. No-one discovers they’re pregnant or gets murdered. And there’s no studio laughter, which believe me, can sound like a drill in my head.
“Don’t worry, I know I’m nuts,” I add.
“You think this is nuts?” says Linus. “You want to meet my granny. She’s really nuts. She thinks she’s twenty-five. When she looks in the mirror she thinks we’re playing tricks on her. She can’t see reality. She wears miniskirts, she wants to go out to dances…She wears more makeup than any granny you’ve ever seen.”
“She sounds awesome!”
“She’s…you know.” He shrugs. “Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad. But the point is, she’s not twenty-five, is she? It’s just her sick brain telling her that, isn’t it?”
He seems to expect an answer, so I say, “Right.”
“I meant to say this to you, before. After Starbucks. Do you get what I’m saying?” He sounds emphatic. “Gran’s not twenty-five, and you’re not…whatever all that bad stuff in your head was telling you. You’re not that.”
And suddenly I see what he’s doing, what he’s trying to do.
“Right,” I say again. “Yes. I know.”
And I do know. Although it’s easier to know when the bad thoughts aren’t rushing through your head like a river.
“Thanks,” I add. “Thanks for…you know. Understanding. Getting it.”
“I don’t really get it. But…”
“You do, more than most people. Really.”