I realized things between Max and me had shifted when his gaze beamed my direction.
He wasn’t looking towards the floppy-haired guys anymore. He was looking towards me. And for once, I didn’t feel like running.
His hello hugs changed, too.
“Are your eyes closed?” I whispered when he wrapped his arms around me.
“Absolutely,” he whispered back.
“Have you always closed your eyes when we’ve hugged?” I asked.
He thought for a moment. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“Nothing,” he said. “Everything.”
He walked me out.
“Whatcha got planned? How ’bout spending the day with me?” he asked.
“What’ll we do?”
“You ever been to the lighthouse?”
We talked most of the ferry ride over. I told him about my idea of switching the narrative perspective of my novel, and he actually said he found the idea “brilliant.”
“How would you describe reality from the perspective of a single cell prokaryote?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure. I’d read that bacterial DNA floats free, which made me think that I might need to tell the story from the perspective of the twisted strand of DNA.
“It’s intelligence, isn’t it?” I asked. “Consciousness? And so couldn’t I somehow describe the processing of information from within the DNA?”
We fell into silence as we thought about it, walking off the ferry without a word, following the trail up to the lighthouse garden, sitting together silently as the shadows danced about us.
“You could absolutely do it,” he said.
“But would anyone read a novel told from the point of view of a prokaryote’s DNA?”
“I would,” he said. “What’s the difference between, say, the DNA processing the information that propels the prokaryote to move its little flagella and your nervous system processing this?” He reached across and tickled me.
“Prokaryotes don’t scream!” I shrieked.
“They might!” He jumped up after me and grabbed me in a hug again.
“I love you,” he said, only I didn’t hear it. Or if I did–if the words entered my ears, my auditory cortex could not process them. I was too busy enjoying the hug.
“Are your eyes closed again?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
He stepped back and gazed my way.
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” he said. “Think I could?”
I squeaked a tiny, “uh-huh,” and then his lips were on mine, and the world went dark and light and silent and roaring and my heart beat outside of me and my stomach flooded with warmth and sank into the earth and I know this description is not at all romantic and the moment was, but it was also so overwhelming and so catastrophic and so bursting with life and death and war and peace and the end of worlds and the birth of stars that at that exact moment I decided: Whatever the universe asked of me, I would do it. Just let me do it with him.
And then, we opened our eyes.
“That was a really nice kiss!” I told him. I’d had, maybe, six kisses by that time in my life, from six different guys, eight, if you count Jimmy in kindergarten, who kissed me behind the big Sleeping Beauty picture book during reading time, and Carl, who kissed me in the hallway in fourth grade on a dare. “I guess you’ve had a lot of practice!” I said.
“Actually, no!” he answered. “This was my first kiss! How’d I do?”
“Really great!” I couldn’t believe it. “How’d you learn to do that thing with your tongue?”
“I just invented it,” he said. “Did you like it?”
It was only the tongue-move-that-changed-the-course-of-my-life, inducting me into the secrets of creation, but I didn’t say anything. I had to remember to breathe.
Something strange happened next. It wasn’t the last time that it happened, but as the first, it pulled me into an otherworldly state.
Max closed his eyes, and I can only say that I felt him enter me entirely–that is, though there was a good twelve inches of physical distance between our bodies, our inside spaces merged. I was in him and he was in me and I had never, even during my most blissed-out moments, tasted such ecstasy. Being Max Culper felt awesome.
He brought me back to myself gently.
“That was sweet,” he said. “You’re lovely, byu kiya.”
We went inside the lighthouse museum. I was looking for a place to sit where we could be alone, where I could start to connect what had been happening with who I was and with the rest of my life. I needed integration.
We found a small library upstairs.
“Hey, look!” Max said, looking over my shoulder. “There’s my pops!”
I turned to see the man who’d been talking with Septemus in line at the romance festival.
“Pops, this is Mallory Kraft,” Max said, “my very special friend.”
I liked the sound of that.
“Hi, Mr. Culper,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve got a huge crush on your son, by the way.”
Max’s father smirked. “You’re kind of glowing, son,” he said. “You feeling it?”
Max simply laughed.
“So, if she’s your very special friend,” his father said, “maybe you’ll bring her home to meet the rest of the family?”
“For sure, Pops,” Max said. “I’ve got a few things I need to disclose first, and then, you bet. If after that, Mallory agrees to the whole enchilada, we will absolutely come over.”
He’s always been full of surprise and mystery, and he certainly was then. The surprise: that he was interested enough in me to have me meet his family. The mystery: that he could have something so significant to disclose that it might make me doubt choosing him.