I make my way to the basement. Amanda and Suze Haines, best friends again, are lounging on a couch. I don’t see Ashley or Shelby anywhere, but fifteen or twenty guys are sprawled on the floor playing a drinking game. Girls are dancing all around them, including the three Brianas and Brenda Shank-Kravitz, who is friends with Theodore Finch. Couples are making out.
Amanda waves her beer at me. “Oh my God, we need to fix your hair.” She is talking about the bangs I gave myself. “And why are you still wearing those glasses? I get wanting to remember your sister, but didn’t she have, like, a cute sweater you could wear instead?”
I set my cup down. I’m still carrying my pillow. I say, “My stomach’s bugging me. I think I’m going home.”
Suze turns her big blue eyes on me. “Is it true you pulled Theodore Finch off a ledge?” (She was “Suzie” until ninth grade, when she dropped the i. It’s now pronounced “Sooze.”)
“Yes.” Please, God, I want that whole day to just go away.
Amanda looks at Suze. “I told you it was true.” She looks at me and rolls her eyes. “That’s just the kind of thing he does. I’ve known him since, like, kindergarten, and he’s only gotten weirder.”
Suze takes a drink. “I know him even better than that.” Her voice goes slutty. Amanda slaps her arm and Suze slaps her back. When they’re done, Suze says to me, “We hooked up sophomore year. He may be weird, but I’ll say this for him, that’s one guy who knows what he’s doing.” Her voice goes sluttier. “Unlike most of these boring-a*s boys around here.” A couple of those boring-a*s boys yell from the floor: “Why don’t you come and try this on for size, b***h?” Amanda slaps Suze again. And on they go.
I shift my bag over my shoulder. “I’m just glad I was there.”
To be more accurate, I’m just glad he was there before I fell off the ledge and killed myself in front of everyone. I can’t even think about my parents, forced to deal with the death of their only remaining child. Not even an accidental death, but an intentional one. That’s one reason I came tonight without a fight. I feel ashamed of what I almost put them through.
“Glad you were where?” Roamer stumbles up with a bucket of beers. He slams it down, ice sloshing everywhere.
Suze looks at him through cat eyes. “The bell tower.”
Roamer stares at her chest. He forces himself to look at me. “Why were you up there, anyway?”
“I was on my way to Humanities and saw him go through the door at the end of the hall, the one that goes to the tower.”
Amanda says, “Humanities? I thought that was second period.”
“It is, but I had to talk to Mr. Feldman about something.”
Roamer says, “They keep that door locked and barricaded. That place is harder to get into than your pants, from what I hear.” He laughs and laughs.
“He must have picked the lock.” Or maybe that was me. One of the benefits of looking innocent is you’re able to get away with things. People almost never suspect you.
Roamer pops the top off a beer and chugs it down. “A*****e. You should have let him jump. Prick almost took my head off last year.” He’s referring to the chalkboard incident.
“Do you think he likes you?” Amanda makes a face at me.
“Of course not.”
“I hope not. I’d be careful around him if I were you.”
Ten months ago, I would have sat beside them, drinking beer and fitting in, and writing witty commentary in my head: She puts the words out there on purpose, like a lawyer trying to lead the jury. “Objection, Miss Monk.” “So sorry. Please disregard.” But it’s too late because the jury has heard the words and latched onto them—if he likes her, she must like him in return.…
But now I stand there, feeling dull and out of place and wondering how I was ever friends with Amanda to begin with. The air is too close. The music is too loud. The smell of beer is everywhere. I feel like I’m going to be sick. Then I see Leticia Lopez, the reporter from the school paper, on her way over to me.
“I’ve gotta go, Amanda. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Before anyone can say anything, I walk upstairs and out of the house.
The last party I went to was April 4, the night Eleanor was killed. The music and the lights and the yelling bring it back. Just in time, I pull my hair out of my face, bend over, and throw up onto the curb. Tomorrow they’ll think it was just another drunk kid.
I search for my phone and text Amanda. Really sorry. Not feeling great. xx V.
I turn around toward home and slam right into Ryan Cross. He is damp and tousled. His eyes are large and beautiful and bloodshot. Like all hot guys, he has a crooked smile. When he does smile with more than one corner of his mouth, there are dimples. He is perfect and I have memorized him.
I am not perfect. I have secrets. I am messy. Not just my bedroom but me. No one likes messy. They like smiling Violet. I wonder what Ryan would do if he knew Finch was the one who talked me down and not the other way around. I wonder what any of them would do.
Ryan picks me up and twirls me, pillow, bag, and all. He tries to kiss me and I turn my head.
The first time he kissed me was in the snow. Snow in April. Welcome to the Midwest. Eleanor wore white, I wore black, a kind of Freaky Friday, switched-up bad sister–good sister thing that we did sometimes. Ryan’s older brother, Eli, threw the party. While Eleanor went upstairs with Eli, I danced. It was Amanda, Suze, Shelby, Ashley, and me. Ryan was at the window. He was the one who said, “It’s snowing!”
I danced over, through the crowd, and he looked at me. “Let’s go.” Just like that.
He took my hand and we ran outside. The flakes were as heavy as rain, large and white and glittering. We tried to catch them with our tongues, and then Ryan’s tongue found its way into my mouth, and I closed my eyes as the flakes landed on my cheeks.
From inside, there was the noise of shouting and something breaking. Party sounds. Ryan’s hands found their way under my shirt. I remember how warm they were, and even as I kissed him, I was thinking, I’m kissing Ryan Cross. Things like this didn’t happen to me before we moved to Indiana. I slipped my own hands under his sweatshirt, and the skin there was hot but smooth. It was exactly what I imagined it would feel like.
There was more shouting, more breaking. Ryan pulled away, and I looked up at him, at the smear of my lipstick on his mouth. I could only stand there and think, That’s my lipstick on Ryan Cross’s lips. Oh. My. God.