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The Anatomy of Laughter

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Here's how it starts: as a low rumble, earthquake-like, in his center, trembling outwards until it erupts in a huff of breath that catches fire and spreads into a full-throated chuckle – so full in fact that it spills out in helpless bursts of laughter, tipping his head back with the force of its hilarity, and it's just so beautiful to behold, so contagious, and so unlike the sullen silences of long ago that she can't help but give in to the tickle it evokes in her own diaphragm.

A lightness suffuses her, similar in effect to helium but less hazardous, no doubt mirroring his state of mind because his laughter is so genuine, so true, so bordering on breathless now because his ribcage is compressing his lungs, but it's okay, because you see, she's long tried to shine a light in his darkness, to chip away some of the burden on his shoulders that's too heavy to bear alone, and all her efforts are beginning to bear fruit because the pressure that his lungs exert may well crack the osmium-coated armor of his heart – she can't wait to pry it open and lure out the precious things he kept locked up, maybe help him spring-clean the moldy, dusty, bat-infested stuff he's been clinging to for far too long.

"You're a riot," he says, hunched over as if punched in the gut, but fond, so fond, and kind of different already, transformed perhaps, as if exercising his core strength has relieved him of some iron bars he used to pen himself in; it's the greatest gift he could give her, without kidding, to say she's a hoot, and not a joke.