The seven of us sit at a table in the food court, finishing the last bites and sips of our fries and sodapops, but while we've all moved on, Jonah is still thinking about his mistake.
"I don't get how I used so much data," he says.
TJ bites a fry and replies, "It's not the end of the world."
"But I'm not even on my phone most of the time," he says. "I give it to Austen to play with."
That turns our attention to the baby in the high chair fiddling with Jonah's cell phone and putting it in her mouth.
"You give a baby a phone?" Cyrus says.
"She likes to touch it," Jonah says. He holds a second before adding, "And eat it."
Curious, Walker leans over and steals the phone from his daughter's mouth, which makes her cry for a second before Jonah gives her a napkin instead to keep her busy, which she immediately starts waving around.
"I cracked the puzzle," Walker says.
He turns the phone screen to us, showing us the homepage of a website for some blog on how to teach your cat the alphabet. That's not the point. The point is that it's the internet. Austen's been accidentally surfing the web whenever Jonah gives her his phone.
All at once, we have the epiphany, sounding, "Ohhhhhhh."
Hazel and I walk side by side up the path to Andreas's house, and surprisingly, I feel nothing. Not scared or excited. I'm just normal. After spending the summer without him, I think seeing Andreas again was made into a much bigger deal in my head than it actually is. Honestly, I probably convinced myself I have feelings for him when I really don't, just because I've had no way to disprove it. This isn't anything special. I'm just seeing a friend again.
"I'm starting to think maybe I thought too much into this," I say.
"How so?" Hazel asks.
"Well, I'm not, like, awkward or nervous, and if I liked him, wouldn't I be awkward and nervous?"
"I would like to point out to you that you have the tendency to procrastinate things until they become a problem, at which point you then get really worked up all at once."
"I'm seeing my friend, not taking a test," I state. "This is totally different."
Sarcastically, she echoes, "Totally."
We ascend the steps, and I press the doorbell. See, nothing. I'm totally fine. The door is opening, and I'm—
Shit. I like him. It's his stupid, brown eyes and his crooked smile, and the way he looks at me first before anything else. And now my body is getting all spirally, my heart is way too loud, and not a single word makes it out of my mouth. Like, am I about to have a stroke?
"Hey," Andreas says. "I just got back an hour ago."
I want to respond, but literally nothing is working. It's some chemical reaction of the shock and nerves that results in speechlessness. Hazel nudges me after a second, and it helps get one word out of me, but it doesn't make sense.
"Yeah," I say.
Andreas just furrows his brows at me and smiles a little, unsure what's going on with me, which is valid, because I also have no idea.
"Awkward and nervous," Hazel utters, "check."
"What's wrong with her?" Andreas asks Hazel, gesturing to me.
I try to answer, but all I get is, "Um..."
"Laryngitis," Hazel explains for me. "Can't speak at all."
"Cool, cool," Andreas accepts.
"Uh, cool," I say.
"Incredible!" Hazel blurts. "She's cured!"
I look over at her in confusion. "What?"
"You're not helping yourself," Hazel mumbles.
"How have you been?" Andreas asks.
"Uh, Good. Yeah, um, I just remembered I have a nail appointment to get to," I say through a flustered voice. "But, um, you have a good day."
"Uh, sure," he responds and lets out a laugh. "See ya."
I smile and spin around, latching on to Hazel's arm to pull her with me as I leave for my car.
"Why do I have to leave too?" Hazel whispers.
"Because you need to paint my nails," I hiss.
Once we're both safely sealed in my car and out of sight of Andreas's doorway, I automatically pull down the mirror. Normally, it's to check my makeup, but right now I'm just seeing how red I am. Yeah, I'm blushing pretty bad. Okay. Um...cool. I'm really hoping Andreas just thought I had a sunburn or something.
"So what's your plan of action?" Hazel wonders.
"There is none," I state, slapping the sun visor and mirror back up against my car roof.
Hazel just looks at me with furrowed brows, responding, "Okay, well, can I suggest first you tell him you like him?"
Where do I even start?
"Hazel, it's been a whole summer, and he was away the whole time, so I have no idea whether he even still likes me."
"That's why you find out."
"But it's not that simple."
Hazel is smart, but about this, she's clearly dumb, because she is not getting what a majorly complicated issue this is. She looks at me in confusion.
"Okay, what about saying, 'Hey, Andreas, I like you,' is not simple?" she questions.
"Because if he doesn't like me back, then basically everything is going to go to shit."
It's not an opinion. It's a pure, plain fact.
"He's, like, not our cousin, but, like, he's sort of family, right," I explain.
"You're not worried about incest, right?" Hazel checks. "'Cause you guys aren't related in any way, shape, or form."
"No. I'm worried, because our families are really close. Even if he did like me too, if we do anything, and it doesn't work out, think of how that's going to affect everyone else."
"Okay, I get what you're saying," Hazel replies. "But I still think you're being stupid."
"Well, I can be whatever I want," I snap.
Hazel rolls her eyes and sighs. "Then I'll just have to tell him for you."
"Hazel, if you do that, you're going to die at fifteen."
Like, I wouldn't actually kill her, but I say it like I would, and she takes back her statement.
"Fine. I won't say anything."
"Thank you," I say.
I start the car and jolt away from the curb.
Cara's eyelashes flutter like butterflies landing as she starts to doze off. But she doesn't give up on finishing the story. She keeps going, repeating herself when she accidentally lets herself shut her eyes while lying on me.
"Then the dragon...the dragon..."
"You can stop if you want," I tell her. "I appreciated what I heard of the story."
"No," she says in a tired voice. "I'm gonna tell you all of it."
Her eyes close again, and I rub her shoulder gently as she hushes more with each breath.
"I'm telling you..." Her sentence drifts away. "Never mind."
She finally gives in and lets herself seep into slumber. Just like that, she's my little baby again, coming in to sleep by me after a bad dream. She's my angel who fights until her voice is lost in the day yet is so vulnerable when the night comes.
I place one hand on my stomach, feeling my other little baby inside me. Soon, they will be out here, needing me to hold them and help them fall asleep. But Cara will never stop being my baby too. None of my kids will. I'd lay my life down for any one of them, because they're building my life into something even better every day.
When I hear the window above my bed lift open, I actually feel kind of relieved. I know a normal person would freak out at the sound of someone entering their room in the dark, but I was kind of waiting for it. It's nice to know I didn't make such a huge fool of myself today that he wouldn't want to do this. I sit up in bed, coming out from under the blankets, and turn on the lamp while Andreas kicks his shoes off then finds his spot beside me. We're closer now. Our shoulders are touching. But I don't move over, and he doesn't either.
"I can't believe I lasted the summer without someone coming in through my window in the middle of the night," I joke.
It's easier to talk now, maybe because there's not the pressure of knowing how I feel. I know how I feel. But now there are just so many more issues tied on to it. Like, we're really close, and doing something might ruin that. Or there's the fact that our families are life-long best friends, and if we messed up, everything would be massively awkward. So is acting on my emotions even worth risking this simplicity we have? Answer: I don't know.
"Well, you left the window unlocked," Andreas responds, "so if it were up to me, I'd guess you wanted me to come in."
I look down, trying not to smile, but that doesn't work.
All of a sudden, my door squeaks open, and Papa is peers in.
"Hey, Andreas," he says. "You do know it's eleven o'clock, right?"
"Yes, I do," Andreas confirms.
"Cool, well, uh, maybe you should go home and sleep?"
When Andreas doesn't move, my dad just shakes his head and closes the door again, not bothering to push it any further.
"How was your nail appointment?" Andreas asks me.
I raise my fingers to show him. "Oh, uh, good."
"They were a little messy on the thumb, huh?" he notices.
I examine the dried pink on my skin, bitterly responding, "Oh, yeah. She wasn't the best at it. And she wouldn't listen either."
"Still looks good," Andreas assures me.
"Thanks. How was your summer?"
"Fun," he replies. "Um, I made lots of friends. Finally learned how to toast a marshmallow without burning it."
I nod and smile, but I know I won't feel settled until I ask a specific question, so I do.
"Like girl girls?"
"Uh, a couple cute ones, yeah."
I don't know what I was expecting. This is Andreas. Obviously, he met someone he liked.
"Yeah, but no girlfriend."
I haven't even decided if I care about that, but I'm still kind of glad.
"What's oh?" he questions.
"Nothing. Just that, um, I figured you would've liked someone there."
"Nope," he denies.
"So you don't like anyone?"
He pauses a second but then answers, and it's not the answer I was hoping for.
"Oh. Um, I mean, that's whatever."
I'm trying to sound like I don't care, but it's hard to do that when I obviously do care.
After a moment of quiet, Andreas finally speaks, "Um, I'm gonna listen to your dad now and head out, but you have a good night."
"Thanks. You too."
He leaves out the window, and I can't help but feel like there's suddenly too much space in this room. But I ignore it. I can't do anything about it anyway.