Looking back now, I think I gravitated toward David because, like me, he was different. His dad’s family is Ashkenazi, and on his mom’s side are Jewish refugees from Yemen. Maybe politics and borders were supposed to keep us apart, but David and I built a safe space, a nest where our differences brought us together.

I look into David’s eyes and squeeze his hand. We both know that I have to go, that this evening can’t last. Without a word, we stand up from the couch. I zip my hoodie. David wraps his arms around my waist and peppers my face with gentle kisses. My heart thrums in my ears. I could live in this moment forever, let time fade away until we wake on the other side of this madness.

“I wish we had more time,” David says.

I know he means he wants us to have more time together tonight. I can’t help but take his words as meaning something more. Time has a weight to it now. A mood. And it’s usually an ominous one. “‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,’” I say, and kiss David on the cheek.

He knits his eyebrows together, a little confused.

“It’s from a million-year-old poem by Wordsworth that my dad made me read, about how consumerism is killing us and we don’t have time for anything really important, but I sometimes read it as, the world is out of whack—”

Our phones beep at the same time. I check my screen, and a Wireless Emergency Alert flashes:

One People, One Nation. Tune in at 9:00 p.m. for the president’s National Security Address, to be broadcast on all channels.

It’s a reminder about the weekly speech tonight. Two weeks ago, the president’s speeches became required viewing. All other programming on television and radio stops. The internet doesn’t work. The text of the speech scrolls across phones. Technically, I suppose, you could turn your television off, but my parents keep it on, with the volume low. My parents are too afraid now of making mistakes.

“Can you believe this crap? The alerts are supposed to be for, like, missing kids, not speeches from bigots.” David shakes his head and squeezes my hand tighter.

“I really have to get back,” I say. “The bonfire will be over soon. People will be walking home.” I think of bumping into Mrs. Brown, her squinting eyes. “My mom will die if they catch me.”

David takes a step back; his jaw clenches before he speaks. “Bonfire? Let’s not use euphemisms. They’re burning books in the school parking lot. They’re fucking burning books. My mom’s a damn professor, and she’s going along with this. And my dad, both of them, really—”

“I know,” I whisper. “It’s my dad’s books. His poems.” My voice cracks, and tears fall down my cheeks. I brush them away with the back of my hand. “They’re burning his poems. He pretends it’s not happening. But those words are him. He’s trying to hide it, but I know it’s killing him. Both of my parents. All of us. Is this how the end begins?”

“It’s not the end of anything,” he says. “Especially not of you and me.”

“Sure. Right. As if your parents haven’t forbidden you to see me.”

“It’s my dad. He’s being a total asshole. And my mom, she’s going along with him. I think she’s too terrified to speak up.”

Part of me thinks I should say something, tell David that his parents aren’t so terrible. But I can’t. I won’t. They stay quiet, using their silence and privilege as a shield to protect themselves.

“We’ll fight this. People will fight this—are fighting,” David says, trying to reassure me. I know he thinks he needs to be strong, to make it seem like he believes his own words, but I don’t think he buys it; I can tell from the way his smile curves down at the edges. I can tell because his left hand is balled into a fist even as his right arm envelops me. I nod and give him a grin that doesn’t reach my eyes. We accept the lies we tell each other and ourselves, I suppose. It’s one of the ways we are surviving the day-to-day without going mad.

At least this isn’t pretend. I nestle into David’s chest, and he kisses the top of my head.

When we first got together, I thought it might be weird to date a friend, someone who’d known me so long. The first time we walked through the school doors and down the hall holding hands, my palm was so sweaty it kept slipping away from David’s. He held on tighter, knitting his fingers through mine. Kissing my forehead when he dropped me off at my locker. Easy. Natural. Kind. Like we were something he always knew we would be.

There’s rustling outside the window. Our heads snap up. A bright LED beam dips back and forth across the lawn. David raises a finger to his lips. I don’t move. I can’t move. My heart pounds in my chest.

After an eternity, the light goes out.

“You’ve got to get home,” David whispers to me. “I’ll walk you.”

“No. It’s too dangerous.”

“It’s more dangerous for you.”

I look at my watch. Seventeen minutes past curfew. What was I thinking?

We clasp hands and tiptoe to the door, slowly opening it. David sticks his head out first, then whispers back, “It’s okay. No one’s out here.”

I take a deep breath and step out. That was close. Too close. This was foolish. Perfect, but stupid.

We race across the lawn, an acrid burning smell heavy in the night air. Over the tops of the roofs a column of smoke still rises, higher now than before. Blackish-gray wisps of words and ideas and spirits, a burnt qurbani ascending to heaven for acceptance. I can’t tell if the tears in my eyes are on account of smoke or grief.

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