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Chris DiAngelo paused in the doorway of his new house, staring out across the street. Just across the street. He could do that, couldn’t he?
His parents and sister Marcy didn’t understand why the move was so hard on him, though he knew they wanted to. The biggest problem of all was that he didn’t quite understand why himself. After all, this move was technically a good thing: Nobody here knew him; nobody here had ever seen him tic uncontrollably in the middle of class; nobody here thought he was a weirdo. But there was, of course, a downside to that: They would find out eventually--and probably sooner than that. After all, no matter how he tried to control them, his tics always exploded out eventually. But how could his family understand that when they were all so...normal?
But it was boring in the house when everybody else was gone, and the playground down the block seemed deserted, with nobody there to see him if he did happen to start having a fit.
He stared at the swings, moving back and forth by themselves in the slight afternoon breeze. They had always been his favorite part of playgrounds as a child; it had been so much like flying...
He swallowed and stepped out of the house.
He closed his eyes and leaned back on the swing; the sun was setting slowly but surely, and it cast unseen shadows through the rickety chain-link fence, shadows that crept across the turf of the playground towards Chris. He pushed himself back and then let go, and without even realizing it he was kicking the shadows away, though they would have to come back eventually.
“Hi! Do you mind if I join you?”
Chris skidded to a halt mid-flight and looked to his left, where the girl who had spoken was standing. She had long red hair that tumbled down around her shoulders and shone even in the twilight and bright green eyes that did the same. They looked almost catlike and seemed to illuminate the few freckles scattered across the bridge of her delicate nose. Her skin was pale and she was so thin she looked like she would blow away in the wrong wind, but something about her was much stronger than it appeared and Chris felt that there was something about her that nobody could see.
“Um, sure,” he said, managing to find his voice. A familiar tugging sensation started up in his chest and he hunched his shoulders downwards, trying to ignore it. Of course, now that he had to interact with somebody, his stupid disease was going to flare up and betray him and his oddness.
“My name’s Chelsea,” she said as she situated herself on the swing next to him, kicking her scuffed sneakers in the thin tan dirt. “I live just over there.” She pointed in a vague direction. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
Chris nodded. “My family just moved here,” he said, bowled over by her wave of chatter but enjoying it a the same time. He couldn’t remember seeing Chelsea in the hallways at school, which he thought a bit odd--if he had seen her, in the brief moments he had spent not staring down at the dirty tiles of the floors in an attempt to avoid as much unnecessary eye contact as possible, he was pretty sure he would have remembered. Chelsea, in the very brief time he had known her, did not seem to be somebody anybody would easily forget.
“It’s hard being the new kid,” Chelsea said, beginning to pump her legs up and down. Not wanting to fall behind, strangely drawn in by her, Chris began to follow her lead, and soon they were flying in tandem, her bright red curls streaming out behind her like wings.
It wasn’t hard to speak to Chelsea, though; Chris discovered that quickly enough. Even with the wind of motion rushing between them, they managed to carry on a conversation that Chris found himself utterly immersed in until his phone buzzed in his pocket, he stopped flying to check it, and discovered that the world had fallen dark around them. The moon and a streetlight were the only illumination the night offered, and as he slid his phone out of his pocket--it was his mother, texting that he was about to miss dinner--he heard a whisper of “Goodbye,” and when he looked up again Chelsea had disappeared into the night.
He didn’t tell his parents about Chelsea. He didn’t want to watch them act happy because he had managed to talk to a human being who wasn’t related to him. Besides, the time on the swings seemed somehow too precious to talk about, as if mentioning that they had occurred would take away the novelty of it all. He was a bit concerned by this feeling, but halfway up the stairs to his room after dinner he was overcome by a much more surprising one.
He had not had a tic at all the whole time he had been with Chelsea.
The next afternoon he returned to the swings and she was there. He had looked for her in the hallways that day without results, and when he posed the question to her she laughed and said, “I’m home-schooled, Chris.”
Laughing, talking, flying, and all without so much as a facial twitch...
Three days later, he told Marcy about Chelsea, and Marcy smiled and said Chelsea sounded like a nice girl. Marcy was thirteen, three years younger than Chris, but sometimes she seemed much older.
He even confided in Marcy that he never had an episode when he was around Chelsea, and Marcy, with her overgrown intuition, brought up something that had never occurred to Chris.
“Maybe that’s because you don’t panic about them when you’re around her, Chris. Not like you do around the rest of us.”
Was that it? Was it that being around Chelsea was so all-consuming that Chris didn’t have the head space available to worry about What if I tic...? He had to admit that it made sense--maybe Chelsea was what he had needed all along. He admitted as much to Marcy, who smiled and advised Chris to ask her out.
Even more surprising, she said yes.
She didn't care about the Tourette’s. She liked him, she said, and that was all that mattered when it came to people. Satisfied, Chris climbed on his swing, and tonight it felt like he was flying higher than ever.
He dreamed about flying, and laughing with Chelsea, and cheerful green eyes gleaming in the moonlight. He told his parents about Chelsea. They wanted to have her over for dinner one night, and he found himself agreeing. She could come one day, after they left the playground for the night.
She was nervous. “I don’t go many places anymore,” she told him.
“You come here, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but that’s different.”
Chris agreed that it was, but he got her to concede, and a day for dinner was arranged.
Chris never told his parents about the swings.
Two days before Chelsea was due for dinner, Chris’s mother and Marcy left to run errands, and as they walked down their blocks they passed the playgrounds.
“Look, it’s Chris,” Marcy said, pointing to her brother on the swings. “He comes here with his girlfriend. He told me.”
“Is he supposed to be there with her now?” their mother asked, peering closer.
“I think so. Why?”
“Because he’s not.”
Marcy looked more carefully, and it was true. There was Chris, laughing and talking and flying, but the swing beside him was empty.