by Kaitlyn Till
Years of exhausting reproductive attempts resulted in Alex Eddington, who emerged squalling from his mother’s womb to the relieved tears of both parents. Three years later, the boy was diagnosed with a deadly peanut allergy, and again the tears gushed forth. Alex’s first doctor shook his head and warned that the allergy was so severe that sweet little Alex would not outlive his childhood. A second doctor’s opinion suggested, that with the proper controls in place, the boy would live a reasonably long, if not particularly active life.
In subsequent years, Mr. and Mrs. Eddington obsessed over food items like customs officers over foreign fruit in travellers’ lunches. By the time he was fourteen, Alex could have sworn that his mother’s three increasingly strong eyeglass prescriptions were due solely to the strain from squinting at labels on tins, boxes, and packets. His parents’ lack of repeat visits from their friends was the result of intensely monitored handwashing and the interrogation of anyone who entered the house. Despite substantial reassurance that the schools were indeed diligently enforcing a ban on all nut products, Alex’s parents insisted that he be safely homeschooled by the finest tutors they could engage, who were moderately good, but not the very best. The Eddington’s were rich, but not that rich.
Alex remained incarcerated in his family mansion throughout the years of his childhood. He grew up on a diet of wholesome books and educational television; he could play the piano, and he could knit. Often bored, he would watch from his tower window as other children walked to school and played in the street. This was all fine and depressing, but what Alex really watched for was the girl: she lived two doors down and strolled past every day, always alone. Her long hair would swing in her face as she bent down to smell the flowers or investigate slugs and other minutiae. Alex didn’t get out much, but at the age of twelve, he knew about girls. Vaguely.
When Alex was fifteen, and she would have been the same age, she cut her hair pixie-style, and dyed it an electric blue. Alex was uncomfortably infatuated. He didn’t know much else about her except that she had a nice smile and that she was kind, helping senile Mr. Ferris back to the sidewalk when he crossed in front of oncoming vehicles. She still stopped to smell the flowers.
She saw him sometimes, looking at her. Alex wondered whether she knew anything about him. She never seemed bothered by his watching, so he suspected that she did. His heart leap-frogged the first time she waved at him.
At sixteen, Alex had the courage to open the window and call out to her, introducing himself formally.
“Hello,” she answered back, resting her hand on the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the garden below. “I’m Cathy. So, why don’t you ever leave that tower of yours?” she asked, her head cocked to one side. Her other hand twisted at a string of beads about her neck. In the autumn sunlight, Alex thought he saw the glint of a delicate piercing in her nose. Or her nose might just have been shiny.
“Deadly allergy,” Alex explained, attempting an air of casual coolness. “I so much as get sight of a peanut, I’ll collapse and die.”
“That’s okay,” answered Cathy. “I mean, not the dying part! But I don’t really like peanuts.”
“Nah. Peanut butter — yuck.” She made a gagging gesture complete with sound effects.
Alex decided that it was the most beautiful gagging noise anyone had ever made.
It might have been that he stayed awake too late on Friday night, curled up with his dog-eared copy of War and Peace, or just the heating of the Eddington mansion cranked one level too high, but on a winter’s Saturday morning, when she stopped at the fence below, Alex made an outrageously bold move: he blew Cathy a kiss. Then he took his EpiPen from his pocket and used the cap end to trace a smiley face in the frost on the window. She grinned and chucked a snowball at him before continuing on her way to the local college that she had begun to attend the year before.
For Alex’s twentieth birthday, his parents announced that they would give him a birthday party. His guests would consist of his parents’ remaining friends, boring professionals who couldn’t remember his name. Most of them had what they thought were tightly closeted drinking problems, which in actuality all of their friends knew about, but were too occupied with their own addictions to care. Alex insisted that Cathy be invited, and reluctantly an invitation was issued by his parents, along with the requisite precautions for being in the presence of their delicate son.
On the big day, Cathy arrived slightly ahead of Alex’s parents; they had to make a quick run to the airport to retrieve his grandmother, whose flight had been delayed. Alex had been left to entertain the stuffy group of professionals spread around his living room, half of whom had a second (or third) drink in hand. The other half wished they were on glass two (or three), but were determined to make a public display of willpower. Alex was preparing to resort to an unenthusiastic rendition of Penny Lane on the upright piano, when Cathy arrived. They exchanged delicate hellos, but in the midst of his attempt to lead her to the dessert table (laid with three kinds of cake and pie), he was summoned back by his grandmother, who was being seated in an armchair at the front of the room. Alex’s parents had gone back outside to collect her luggage from the car.
Alex bent down for his grandmother to kiss him. His mind was still quite occupied by Cathy; he wondered when would be an appropriate moment to present the scarf he had knit her. His grandmother’s withered lips made firm contact with his cheek. Alas, the elderly woman had in recent months been suffering from poor memory and, after saving her peanuts from the airplane, she had devoured the foil packet’s contents while waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Eddington to pick her up. Poor dear was getting on in years, though no one dared tell her that.
Alex flushed scarlet, grasped at his right pant’s pocket, and collapsed unconscious on the persian rug. Mr. and Mrs. Eddington’s friends panicked and clustered around, fanning him with a rainbow of scarves. His tie was loosened in the kerfuffle.
Cathy vaulted across the dessert table, shoving a pair of roly-poly, whiskey-drinking lawyers into the cakes.
“Get the hell out of my way!” She kicked and pushed her way through the rest of the crowd that had gathered around Alex, who was lying dead still. She reached into his pocket and brandished the EpiPen. She pulled it out of its container, removed the safety cap, and rammed the black tip perpendicular into his thigh, holding it there. She counted to ten and pulled it out. The needle glinted triumphantly, but Alex was still unconscious. She put her ear to his chest. Nothing.
His lips were tinged blue and his skin was furious with rash. She tilted his head back and held the bridge of his nose. She covered his mouth with her own and exhaled, deeply. One, two, three times she compressed his chest. A second time, she breathed into him. One, two, three chest compressions. She repeated the cycle a third time. His eyelids fluttered, and he gasped his way back to life.
After the moment of struggle had passed, he smiled sweetly at her, or tried to, through swollen lips. This was the closest he had ever been to a real, breathing, sweating girl.
She smiled back.
And she was massaging the place on his left thigh where she had jabbed him with the needle.
In uniform delayed reaction, the rest of the company whipped out their cellphones, mass-dialing 911. Mr. and Mrs. Eddington crowded through the door and collected their son in a cruncher of an embrace, much to his disappointment, because they had shoved aside Cathy to do so.
Alex’s thoughts were already occupied with plans of how to get the girl alone for a real kiss, in which he would be an active participant. It was this that he fixated upon all the way to the hospital, with Cathy’s promised visit as soon as he was sent home.
Best. Day. Ever.