The end of July is sticky and hot, a little cooler than the peak heat of the month's start, but still uncomfortable. The windows are all closed and locked, due to recent rash of thefts in the neighborhood - "What is happening to this town, I don't know," Mrs. Hatford had declared for the umpteenth time at dinner - leaving no room for respite.
Wally doesn't really mind it, probably because he does as little movement as possible (Jake, who goes running every morning, states that he is about to die every time he comes in for breakfast). The most active part of his day is going up and down the stairs.
At present, Wally's sitting on the floor of his room, leaning against his bed. He's heard that heat rises, so maybe it's slightly cooler down here. Or maybe he's kidding himself.
"Wally," Caroline Malloy says. "You could open a window, you know."
"Nope," he says, not even turning his head to look at her. "Mom's rules."
She scoffs. "We're in here," she points out. "No one's going to climb in here when we're in the room."
"Moths," is Wally's monosyllabic response.
"You worry too much."
"You don't worry enough."
"You missed me."
"Not in the least."
This is the fifth, maybe the sixth time they've had this exchange. Wally stopped keeping count after last summer. The Malloys visit every now and then, and somehow, Wally and Caroline have fallen into a friendship. They are, in some ways, the only people who take each other seriously - Wally is loathe to admit it, but under all the crazy, he actually understands where Caroline's coming from, most of the time. Ever since they were kids, they've gotten each other, in some strange way that neither of them has ever really wanted to acknowledge.
This is the third summer that the Malloys have visited. Wally is sixteen. So is Caroline, but she's a younger sixteen, or so Wally likes to think. The adults say she's as precocious as ever, and Wally agrees, if you substitute harebrained for precocious.
"Let's do something fun," she says.
See what he means?
"Caroline," he says. "It is ten o'clock at night. There are burglars in the neighborhood. All the stores close at seven. It is even hotter outside than it is in here."
"I didn't say we had to go out," she says, though Wally's fairly sure she's just being contrary. "Sitting on your floor is boring."
"So sit on the chair," Wally says, feeling proud that he can still be witty even though his body feels like it's melting.
Then there's silence, which suits Wally just fine. He can hear Caroline hum, shift around, sigh melodramatically. He refuses to look at her. Looking at Caroline has always been dangerous, but it's become especially so lately. It used to be that making eye contact with Caroline Malloy led to a path of humiliation, exhaustion, and the occasional episode of forced servitude, but now…it's something else. Like, staring-at-her-the-way-he-used-to-stare-at-Christina-Wyatt-in-the-sixth-grade-when-he-had-a-crush-on-her something else.
(The Hatfords had been there to greet the Malloys when they drove up to their house, and Caroline got out of the car wearing a pair of cutoff shorts and Jake had to elbow Wally to bring his attention elsewhere.)
It's just that, when did her legs get so long?
And when did he start noticing?
Nope. Not looking at her.
He closes his eyes, tipping his head back. It doesn't make the heat go away, but it makes his neck feel a little cooler, just for a moment.
"Wally, are you ignoring me?"
"Yup," he says, keeping his eyes closed. He can hear her moving. Maybe she's going to leave. That wouldn't be a very good idea, his brain idly reminds him. You know, burglars and all.
"Wally." Her voice is closer now. Too close? He opens his eyes to find her face only inches away -
And then her mouth is on his, of all things, sticky like everything else in the air. Instinctively, Wally pulls back from the invasion of his personal space, but Caroline's never been one to give up until she gets a reaction. She leans in and kisses him again, holding his shoulders so he can't get away. (But did she really think he was going anywhere, anyway?)
Wally's not sure what to think, or if he's even thinking at all - his brain seems to have short-circuited, flashes of feeling and instinct replacing coherent thought entirely. He kisses her back this time, hands coming up to frame her face. Her mouth is insistent on his, tongue pushing into his mouth (Caroline never takes no for an answer). To his own surprise, he lets her in, and she sighs, breath warm in his mouth.
Then a distinct thump comes through the wall - Peter's fallen off his bed, probably - and they break apart in surprise. For a moment, they just stare at each other. Caroline's face is red, and Wally's sure his is too. She licks her lips and it occurs to Wally that he didn't really hate kissing Caroline - in fact, he'd kind of like to do it again.
"Um," he says, frantically trying to collect his thoughts. "What - what was that for?" All the lethargy from earlier has disappeared, replaced by adrenaline. His entire body feels alive - he's not sure if it's from the kissing or the shock.
She bites her lip and sits back on her heels. The space between them feels strange and charged, like a storm is coming. (Which is impossible, it hasn't rained in weeks - why is he thinking about weather?)
"Just curious," she finally says, with a shrug that is a bit too nonchalant. "You didn't seem interested in talking, so…"
"Yeah, but - that - you - " Wally sputters, not really even sure what he's trying to say. "You kissed me."
"You kissed me back," she points out.
"That's - I didn't mean to!" he blurts out, before he can really think about what he's saying.
"Okay, sorry," Caroline says, and that's how Wally knows this is more serious than she's letting on. Caroline Malloy doesn't apologize for anything she doesn't think is her fault. "I'll leave now."
She stands up, and before he can really think too hard about what he's doing, Wally grabs her hand.
"Wait," Wally says. "I didn't - that came out wrong." He sighs, frustrated. This isn't how he works. He's not impulsive or good at thinking on his feet. If he were the one to kiss her, he would've been preparing for it weeks in advance. "I just wasn't expecting it. That's all."
"Oh," she says. A small smile quirks her lips. "So…you liked it?"
"Uh…" What does she want him to say? What does he want himself to say? Wally doesn't talk about these things. He doesn't want to admit that he liked it, or that he's wanted to kiss her since the beginning of summer - maybe even before. (But not, like, back when the Malloys were actually living here. Because she was annoying back then. Also, they were nine, which, gross -)
"Wally," Caroline says, and now she's full-on smiling. Is she making fun of him? Did she plan this whole thing out? "Don't think so much."
Wally inhales, exhales. And then, for the first time in his life, he takes Caroline Malloy's advice, tugging her back down so he can kiss her again.