The crowd started to thin out around midnight, in time for most people’s curfews. Angus raised his voice and asked if anyone wanted to share a cab home. I think he was expecting Maddie to volunteer to climb in after him, but Angus lived in Bay Ridge. Even if Maddie had been so inclined, it wouldn’t have made any sense.
She and I ended up in our own cab with her head in my lap, me just stroking her hair and watching the streetlights blur.
A loud click pierced the quiet of the office. Dr. R reached for a buzzer and then Maddie came in the doorway. She raised a green mitten to wave a general hello—I don’t think it was meant for me or Dr R. As she shimmied out of her jacket, her jewelry jangled in a way that told me she was nervous. She was wearing plaid pajama bottoms and a white V-neck T-shirt that didn’t conceal her bright aqua bra straps. She looked my way and her cheeks turned red. Leon Yagoda was right. Her skin was beautiful.
“Hello, Maddie,” Dr. R said. She sank onto the couch, close enough for me to smell her shampoo. It was herbal, a little like Christmas. “How are you doing today?” He asked it with a fear-tinged gentleness. I knew he really bought into the whole Crazy-Maddie package. Maddie was a fascinating character, but there was this misconception about her, that she was totally insane. She only ran away from home once, just to see how far she could make it on her own. She wasn’t planning on living as a runaway. She’d told me that.
“Hi,” she said, addressing Dr. R and not me. “Did I miss anything?”
“No, James and I have been waiting for you,” he said.
She turned to me and blinked slowly. Her eyelids were painted with purple glitter. She laughed, rubbed her face. “Sorry, it’s weird seeing you here.”
“You invited me here,” I reminded her.
“You know what I mean. How’s it going?”
“Super.” I forced a smile. “You and I haven’t spoken in a couple weeks and now I’m at your therapist’s office.”
I’d meant it to come out sounding funny, but it had the opposite effect. I could feel how tightly I was gripping my book. I set it on the table beside me.
“I really appreciate it.” She looked at Dr. R. “Do you want to explain why he’s here?”
“That’s not my place,” Dr. R said. “Why don’t you tell James why you wanted to talk to him?”
My stomach pretzeled in the silence that followed.
“I know you must think it’s cowardly I’m doing this here, but I wanted backup,” she said.
“Like a SWAT team?”
She didn’t respond to that. She just looked down and crossed her ankles. “I think we need to take a break.”
Dr. R’s face told me he’d known this was coming. “You know we’re not a couple, right?” I asked him. “She’s told you that?”
“James,” Dr. R said, “important relationships don’t have to be romantic.”
“We were spending too much time together,” Maddie said.
“Isn’t that the definition of what best friends do?” I turned to Dr. R. “She’s the one who called us that.”
Maddie was twirling the embroidered friendship bracelets around her wrist. “I’m just sick of feeling guilty about not paying enough attention to you. It’s never enough with you.”
“Come again? When have I made you feel guilty?”
“At Marion’s party, for instance. You wouldn’t let me talk to Angus.”
“You talked to him all night!” I was getting loud, which was embarrassing.
“Yeah, with you hovering.”
“You told me to meet you at the party. This is just some ridiculous stab at melodrama,” I said to Dr. R, then looked back at Maddie. “Now that your old friends have moved on and you’re not fighting with any of them, you’re making trouble with me.”
Maddie sighed. “What about the day we had lunch at Chipotle? You pretended to be checking your texts but I could tell by the way you set the phone up on the table, you were taking my picture.”
“Do you want to give me your phone?”
I didn’t move, just looked back and forth between the two of them.
“James, do you need a glass of water?” Dr. R asked.
“No.” I stared at Maddie and wondered how it was possible to miss and hate somebody with equal intensity. I stood up and left the room. She’d probably call me in an hour.
I kept my phone on my lap at the dinner table, but Maddie didn’t call me that night. She didn’t call me the next day either. At school, things were exactly the same as they’d been before Maddie and I had become friends, which only depressed me more. It meant nobody had noticed my absence enough to hold it against me.
Brooding aside, I didn’t have that much to do over the weekend. On Sunday I took Topher to the Prospect Park Zoo. Our parents started letting the two of us to go out alone together last year. The monkeys and sea lions are pretty cool, but for some reason he is obsessed with the black-tailed prairie dogs.
“That’s Roberta,” he said, pointing to a lumpy creature in a remote corner. “She’s not moving around a lot. I think she’s upset.”
We’d been sitting on the bench for almost an hour. He has names for all of the prairie dogs. One time, when he noticed that one of them, the one he called Edith, was missing, he freaked out and I had to hug him tight and rock back and forth and say “Edith is fine” a million times in a row. A man from security finally came over to see what was the matter. When I told him, he left for a minute and returned with an on-site zoologist who told us that Squeaky Breeze—that turned out to be Edith’s real name—was having his physical check-up.
Topher is 13, but he functions at the level of somebody a lot younger. He doesn’t like to be touched by most people, and when he gets mad, he can scream and throw things. Most of the time, though, apart from his neck twitch, he just looks like a regular kid who is a few years younger than he actually is. He goes to a special school, and when he grows up he is going to have to find a job that doesn’t involve dealing with too many other people.
It all started during the time I lived with Uncle Nick. This was before anybody knew exactly what was wrong with Topher, just that he still hadn’t spoken but he was spelling words like scissors and probiotic with refrigerator magnets. Mom and Dad were going to experts nonstop. I was seven and I remember it well. I spent the time sleeping on an air mattress in Uncle Nick’s study.