I wish I had a photograph of my face in that exact instant so I could remember myself the way I used to be. That instant was the last good moment before everything turned bad and changed forever.
Now Ryan holds me against him, my feet off the ground. “You’re headed in the wrong direction, V.” He starts to carry me toward the house.
“I’ve already been in there. I have to go home. I’m sick. Put me down.” I rap at him with my fists, and he sets me down because Ryan’s a nice boy who does what he’s told.
“I’m sick. I just threw up. I have to go.” I pat his arm like it’s a dog. I turn away from him and hurry across the lawn, down the street, around the corner to home. I hear him calling after me, but I don’t look back.
“You’re home early.” My mom is on the sofa, her nose deep in a book. My father is stretched out at the other end, eyes closed, headphones on.
“Not early enough.” I pause at the bottom of the stairs. “Just so you know, that was a bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea, but I went anyway so you could see I’m trying. But it wasn’t a sleepover. It was a party. A full-on let’s-get-wasted orgiastic free-for-all.” I say this at them, as if it’s their fault.
My mom nudges my dad, who pulls off the headphones. They both sit up. Mom says, “Do you want to talk about anything? I know that must have been hard, and surprising. Why don’t you hang out with us for a while?”
Like Ryan, my parents are perfect. They are strong and brave and caring, and even though I know they must cry and get angry and maybe even throw things when they’re alone, they rarely show it to me. Instead, they encourage me to get out of the house and into the car and back on the road, so to speak. They listen and ask and worry, and they’re there for me. If anything, they’re a little too there for me now. They need to know where I’m going, what I’m doing, who I’m seeing, and when I’ll be back. Text us on the way there, text us on your way home.
I almost sit down with them now, just to give them something, after all they’ve been through—after what I almost put them through yesterday. But I can’t.
“I’m just tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”
Ten thirty p.m. My bedroom. I am wearing my Freud slippers, the fuzzy ones made to look like his face, and Target pajamas, the ones with the purple monkeys. This is the clothing equivalent of my happy place. I cross off this day with a black “X” on the calendar that covers my closet door, and then I curl up on my bed, propped against my pillows, books spread across the comforter. Since I stopped writing, I read more than ever. Other people’s words, not my own—my words are gone. Right now, I’m into the Brontë sisters.
I love the world that is my room. It’s nicer in here than out there, because in here I’m whatever I want to be. I am a brilliant writer. I can write fifty pages a day and I never run out of words. I am an accepted future student of the NYU creative writing program. I am the creator of a popular Web magazine—not the one I did with Eleanor, but a new one. I am fearless. I am free. I am safe.
I can’t decide which of the Brontë sisters I like best. Not Charlotte, because she looks like my fifth-grade teacher. Emily is fierce and reckless, but Anne is the one who gets ignored. I root for Anne. I read, and then I lie for a long time on top of my comforter and stare at the ceiling. I have this feeling, ever since April, like I’m waiting for something. But I have no idea what.
At some point, I get up. A little over two hours ago, at 7:58 p.m., Theodore Finch posted a video on his Facebook wall. It’s him with a guitar, sitting in what I guess is his room. His voice is good but raw, like he’s smoked too many cigarettes. He’s bent over the guitar, black hair falling in his eyes. He looks blurry, like he filmed this on his phone. The words of the song are about a guy who jumps off his school roof.
When he’s done, he says into the camera, “Violet Markey, if you’re watching this, you must still be alive. Please confirm.”
I click the video off like he can see me. I want yesterday and Theodore Finch and the bell tower to go away. As far as I’m concerned, the whole thing was a bad dream. The worst dream. The worst nightmare EVER.
I write him a private message: Please take that off your wall or edit out what you say at the end so no one else sees/hears it.
He writes back immediately: Congratulations! I deduce by your message that you’re alive! With that out of the way, I was thinking we should probably talk about what happened, especially now that we’re partners on this project. (No one will see the video but us.)
Me: I’m fine. I’d really like to drop it and forget the whole thing ever happened. (How do you know that?)
Finch: (Because I only started this page as an excuse to talk to you. Besides, now that you’ve seen it, the video will self-destruct in five seconds. Five, four, three, two …)
Finch: Please refresh the page.
The video is gone.
Finch: If you don’t want to talk on Facebook, I can just come over.
Finch: Well, technically in, like, five or ten minutes. I should get dressed first, unless you prefer me naked, and we have to allow for driving time.
Me: It’s late.
Finch: That depends on who you ask. See, I don’t necessarily think it’s late. I think it’s early. Early in our lives. Early in the night. Early in the new year. If you’re counting, you’ll notice the earlys outnumber the lates. It’s just to talk. Nothing more. It’s not like I’m hitting on you.
Finch: Unless you want me to. Hit on you, I mean.
Finch: “No” you don’t want me to come over? Or “no” you don’t want me hitting on you?
Me: Both. Either. All of the above.
Finch: Okay. We can just talk at school. Maybe across the room during geography, or I can find you at lunch. You eat with Amanda and Roamer, am I right?
Oh my God. Make it stop. Make him go away.
Me: If you come over tonight, do you promise to drop it once and for all?
Finch: Scout’s honor.
Me: Just to talk. Nothing more. And you don’t stay long.
As soon as I write it, I want to take it back. Amanda and her party are just around the corner. Anyone might come by and see him here.
Me: Are you still there?
He doesn’t answer.
Day 7 of the Awake
I climb into my mom’s old S****n VUE, better known as Little B*****d, and head to Violet Markey’s on the farm road that runs parallel to National Road, the main artery that cuts through town. I slam my foot against the gas pedal, and there’s the rush as the speedometer climbs to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, the needle shaking the higher it gets, the S****n doing its best in that moment to be a sports car instead of a five-year-old minivan.