Maeve’s heartbeat POUNDS its way through her body, matched only by the roaring in her ears. He lied to her. They both did. Two of the only men she’s ever brought herself to trust have joined forces to betray her. It’s huge and earthshattering and she can’t look either of them in the eye. (she doesn’t have to. Jackson, totally wasted, is about to fall over and she can FEEL Otis’s earnest puppy-dog eyes boring into her body.) She knows all of this without looking up and if avoiding Otis’s obvious pain (it probably rivals hers) is an upside, she’s likely way too busy to notice.
Being known is an agonizing feeling. Luckily, life hasn’t offered too many people who can place their fingers on Maeve’s being, memorizing how she goes about the world. This? This is new and foreign and horrible and proves everything she’s ever thought – people know things so they can manipulate you. It’s not until later, when Jackson’s mid-hangover while she and Otis sit on opposite ends of the couch in her trailer, that she pauses to think this process of being seen, of having your dimmest corners illuminated, might be a blessing.
Maeve doesn’t hate herself. Actually. She knows this is a rare phenomena, but she learned a long time ago that people would happily hate her for no reason and she tries to NEVER agree with the masses. (until the masses recognize Virginia Woolf’s god given superiority) She hates the world sometimes, hates people for leaving her, hates electric bills for needing to be paid, hates rumors for spreading so fucking fast and permanently, but if she didn’t absolutely adore herself she wouldn’t still be standing. After all, someone’s gotta believe in you and Maeve doesn’t have anyone else to do that for her. She never has.
Wait. Correction. She never has . . . until now.
Funny thing about everyone who’s supposed to take care of you leaving, it kinda ruins your faith in humanity. With a dad who isn’t more than myth, druggie mom, and manipulatively absent brother, Maeve cares enough about herself to not let people in. She’s her own best friend, own partner-in-crime, own caretaker and confidant. She makes herself three meals a day and falls into book after book, fantastical characters keeping her company. She is still an island, but librarians stop by her white sand beaches every so often. (“Howl’s Moving Castle” is her favorite.)
Aimee was the first, a bubbly, smarter-than-you’d-guess, wannabe-popular-please-please-please, golden cherubic angel, the two of them get stuck together on a group project freshman year and something clicks. Aimee gains status as the months pass, but her disdainful “friends” look the other way because if everyone called each other on their dirty little secrets society would collapse. They aren’t super close, but Aimee’s the first friends Maeve’s had since everything went to shit and that must count for something. Staying has to count.
Jackson is the next, far more complex addition to her life. They notice each other, summer before junior year and circle for a while, ferreting out the others feelings before FINALLY some of the best sex Maeve’s ever had. (Not that she’s new at this, but Maeve “cock biter” Wiley hasn’t been around the block quite as many times as everyone assumes.) After that it’s not supposed to be complicated, just nice and distracting, and easy. But OF COURSE a certain amateur sex therapist had to come crashing into everything. In summation, Jackson was supposed to be EASY. Maeve didn’t mean to get this involved, the path leading away from him is messy, complicated, and full of land mines. She shouldn’t have done this. She knows herself well enough to definitively say that she’s in no position to fix anyone, not without sacrificing her own semblance of sanity.
She likes books, they’re already written, the end doesn’t change no matter how you feel along the way. (Does she regret the abortion? No way. It’s probably the easiest thing she’s ever done, having a kid would make everything a million times worse. She doesn’t have time for regret that enormous.)
And then there’s Otis. Otis, Otis, Otis. The first person she can’t immediately shuttle off into a mental box, a defined space. She can’t take him seriously but he’s ridiculous and amazing and scared of her, but not in a judgmental way. She doesn’t know what to expect from him but she can’t see this absolute oddball hurting anyone. And? She needs him. Money is tight and suddenly there’s this golden window of opportunity she can’t pass up. Plus, there’s something in his eyes she understands, something she almost likes. After a rock start the clinic turns out to be more successful than she could’ve hoped and nothing is quite so dire. Also . . . she likes this kid? Maybe? She’s constantly surprised by him, in the best way and being around him makes her feel lighter. She likes the feeling. Days blur as she gets more serious with Jackson and one day she realizes the absence of Otis hurts, throbs like an open wound. She texts him, feeling better when he texts back almost immediately, and it strikes her that he doesn’t want anything from her. Or, more accurately, nothing big. Not money or an A+ paper, or her attention for a boyfriend drama expose. Sure he might be a little bit in love with her, she’s too smart to miss that, but the thought doesn’t make her actively recoil. And it’s not like anything’s gonna happen anyway. She’d ruin him.
Thoughts, timelines and patterns circle their way through her mind. Maybe this isn’t a surprise. Maybe everyone does want something and she was tricking herself into thinking otherwise. He tricked her into thinking otherwise. (which “he” is unclear.) When the boys explain their transaction (Jackson says he “just wanted to get to know her more” while Otis clumsily narrates his accidental role in the whole mess) Afterwards, Jackson stays over because he can’t/won’t go home but his presence, his need to be fixed starts to feel like an immovable iron weight. Otis goes home. (To kiss another girl, but he lets Maeve breathe)
Later, with Jackson heavy on her shoulders and Otis enamored with someone else, she reads a letter. Feelings, thoughts, all about Otis, come crashing onto her consciousness and everything suddenly makes a lot more sense. But in a painful way. The only thing worse than realizing you love someone is realizing it a beat too late.
Time passes. She supports Jackson as best she can but that quickly transitions into a “just friends” capacity. She will help him, she still absolutely cares, but she can’t fix other people. She spends nights wracked with guilt, wishing she could fix a man who deserves it so much, but . . . she can’t. People can’t fix other people. This sits in her gut until, one particularly bad night, she bites the bullet and texts Otis EVERYTHING. (Maybe it’ll scare him away for good. Maybe he’s too busy with Ola.) He responds in minutes. They talk. About important stuff, “Yes, we can’t fix someone else. That’s impossible. But we can still support them. We can keep them from feeling alone. That’s all people are – a billion points of connection,” and ridiculous stuff all night. (Otis mentions that he and Ola aren’t really a thing anymore, they made better friends than kissing friends and Maeve says “I miss you” when they near the conclusion of the conversation) In the end the monsters are silent and Maeve doesn’t understand how a single person can quiet their roaring. (Across town Otis wonders the same thing but they are both too happy to care)
The next day at school Maeve wears her normal battle armor and Otis looks like he didn’t get any sleep last night. (Neither of them did.) The air between them buzzes, but with an enthusiastic kind of possibility instead of lingering resentment as they fall, unspeaking, into step with one another. Eric joins them and the day is spent prattling on about stupid silly things as though they never spent a single day apart. They spend the next week learning each other once again. It’s as simple as breathing. Otis doesn’t push, overjoyed to be near his brilliant favorite girl. (He still loves her. They don’t talk about it but it floats in the undercurrent of every conversation. She might love him, the knowledge sits like a bomb between them.) Their touches are casual and weighted. (Something that shouldn't happen, logically, but their fingers find a way back to each other) He’s stronger than she realized. She likes him so much more than he knows. He only asks for things she has plenty to give. Her freezing hands warm between his fingers.
When they kiss for the first, second, third, fiftieth, time it’s subtext made real and warm and perfect. Instead of fixing someone, making them a little better, a little happier, and little safer is infinitely better.
They are a team, a fantasy, a dream made real(istic). Most things are survivable with connected lips, Maeve’s hand on Otis’s chest, his fingers trailing in her hair.