Did you know that hugging increases levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which is beneficial for stress levels, heart health and so much more? Did you know a ten second hug a day may fight infections, boost your immune system, ease depression and fatigue?
In Three Heartbeats Away, the third book in my C.C. Hunter YA series The Mortician’s Daughter, Riley learns about some of the science of hugs and discovers a twenty second hug (or longer) holds the greatest health benefits, especially for stress relief. And boy, could Riley use less stress. I mean, she’s only trying to stop a killer. So, she starts counting the seconds when she hugs people and when they hug her. Here’s an excerpt of one of her best hugs from Hayden, the guy she loves that’s dating someone else.
We leave the hospital, and I barely get seated behind the wheel before Hayden says, “Tell me about your dead-bride search.”
I consider telling him it’s not his deal, but Hayden helped with my last two spirits. I start driving and give him the lowdown on the bride and about going to Delicious Donuts earlier.
A wrinkle appears in the middle of his forehead.“You went by yourself.”
“It was daytime. People were around.”
He shakes his head. “You’re trying to find a murderer. You shouldn’t go there alone.”
“I’m not trying to find him. I’m trying to find evidence to take to the police.”
“Same thing.” Frustration sounds in his tone.“Do you realize how crazy it is that you are even doing this?”
“What am I supposed to do? Not help them?”
“Maybe,” he says.
I halt at a stop sign and look at him. “I can’t not help them. I didn’t ask for this, but they come to me and it is what it is.”
For the next mile, we don’t speak. Then he says, “Sorry, I just… It still blows my mind. I’ll do some checking on the Internet, too.”
“Don’t you have enough on your plate?” I pull up in front of his house.
“I’m by myself all day.”
I cut the car off and pull out the keys to get his walker out of the trunk. When I set it down, I say, “I should go.”
He frowns. “You said you didn’t have to be home until five-thirty. You’ve got—”
“I know, but…my big showdown with my dad about Mom is supposed to happen this afternoon, and I need to wrap my head around what I’m going to say.” My voice almost trembles.
“You going to be okay?”
One look at his blue eyes and the truth slips out.“I don’t know.”
Hayden stands there. “Call me when it’s over. I’m sure you’ll need to talk.” He picks up the walker and sets it on the curb and uses it to step up.
I worry he did too much today.“Hand me your keys and I’ll unlock your door.”
He hands them to me, and I move with him up the walkway.
We get to the porch, and I unlock the door and hand him his keys.
Our hands touch, and the brief contact is almost painful. “Riley, I’m sorry you’re having to go through this.”
Before I realize his intention, he pushes his walker aside and hugs me.
I close my eyes and let my head rest on his chest. I know this spot. I can smell his skin, feel his chest rise and fall. Alive. The boy I was so afraid of losing is alive and walking. And he cares. About me. Emotion stings my eyes.
His cheek comes down to the side of my temple. I savor the closeness, relish the feel of his arms around me. I memorize his whispered breath against my cheek. Counting the seconds, I pray for twenty. Or more than twenty. I get to thirty before Hayden says, “I’ll be thinking about you.”
His arms fall from around me. I step back. Our eyes meet, hold, and I feel it, the connection I’ve never felt with anyone else.
“Call me,” he says. “If only to say you survived. I’ll worry if you don’t.”
Nodding, I walk back to my car. I get inside. The warmth of his embrace lingers. I look out the window. He’s still there watching me. Part of me wants to run back and hug him again. But I remember my appointment with Dad.
I start my car.When I pull out, I see a candy-apple-red Honda parked across the street. And I recognize who’s in the driver’s seat—recognize who’s staring at me. Brandy.
She had to have seen us hug. This can’t be good.
I keep driving. The moment I come to a side street, I turn, put my car in park, and text Hayden: Brandy’s parked across from your house.
Three dots appear, then disappear. And so does the sweetness of Hayden’s hug. I remember his figuring-out comment.
Why does everything in my life have to be so screwed up?
Are you a hugger? Do you easily hug your family and friends? Or is it something you are uncomfortable with?