“But that isn’t why. The why is that none of it matters. Not school, not cheerleading, not boyfriends or friends or parties or creative writing programs or …” She waves her arms at the world. “It’s all just time filler until we die.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Whether it’s filler or not, I’m pretty glad to be here.” If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you need to make the most of it. “It mattered enough for you not to jump.”
“Can I ask you something?” She is studying the ground.
“Why do they call you Theodore Freak?”
Now I’m studying the ground like it’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen. It takes me a while to answer because I’m trying to decide how much to say. Honestly, Violet, I don’t know why the kids don’t like me. Lie. I mean, I know but I don’t. I’ve always been different, but to me different is normal. I decide on a version of the truth.
“In eighth grade, I was a lot smaller than I am now. That was before your time, before you got here.” I look up long enough to see her nod her head. “Ears stuck out. Elbows stuck out. My voice didn’t drop till the summer before high school, when I shot up fourteen inches.”
“That and sometimes I say and do things without thinking. People don’t like that.”
She’s quiet as we round a corner, and I can see her house in the distance. I walk slower, buying us more time. “I know the band playing down at the Quarry. We could head over there, get warm, listen to music, forget about everything. I also know a place with a pretty awesome view of the town.” I shoot her one of my better grins.
“I’m going inside and going to sleep.”
I’m always amazed by people and their sleep. I wouldn’t ever sleep if I didn’t have to.
“Or we can make out.”
A minute or so later, we’re at my car. “How’d you get up there, anyway? The door was open when I tried it, but it’s usually sealed tight.”
She smiles for the first time. “I might have picked the lock.”
I whistle. “Violet Markey. There’s more to you than meets the eye.”
In a flash, she is up the walk and inside her house. I stand watching until a light flicks on in an upstairs window. A shadow moves in front of it so that I can see the outline of her, as if she’s watching me through the curtain. I lean back against the car, waiting to see who gives in first. I stay there until the shadow moves away and the light goes off.
At home, I park Little B*****d in the garage and start my nightly run. Run in winter, swim the rest of the year. My regular route is down National Road, out past the hospital and Friendship Campground to this old steel bridge that seems forgotten by everyone but me. I sprint across the tops of its walls—the ones that act as guardrails—and when I make it without falling, I know I’m alive.
Worthless. Stupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.
I run for miles but don’t count them, passing dark house after dark house. I feel sorry for everyone in this town who’s sleeping.
I take a different route home, over the A Street Bridge. This bridge has more traffic because it links downtown with the west side of Bartlett, where the high school is and the local college is and all these neighborhoods are, growing up in between.
I run past what’s left of the stone guardrail. There is still an angry hole in the middle where the rest of the wall used to be, and someone has placed a cross beside it. The cross lies on its side, white paint faded gray from the Indiana weather, and I wonder who put it there—Violet? Her parents? Someone from school? I run to the end of the bridge and cut onto the grass, down the embankment to the bottom, which is an old dried-up riverbed full of cigarette butts and beer bottles.
I kick through the trash and the rocks and the dirt. Something shines silver in the dark, and then I see other shining things—pieces of glass and metal. There is the red plastic eye of a taillight. The shattered lump of a side mirror. A license plate, dented and nearly folded in half.
All of this makes it suddenly real. I could sink like a stone into the earth and be swallowed whole by the weight of what happened here.
I leave everything as it was, except for the license plate, which I take with me. Leaving it there seems wrong, as if it’s too personal a thing to sit out in the open where someone who doesn’t know Violet or her sister might take it and think it’s cool, or collect it as a souvenir. I run toward home, feeling both heavy and hollowed out. This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.
I run until time stops. Until my mind stops. Until the only thing I feel is the cold metal of the license plate in my hand and the pounding of my blood.
152 days till graduation
Sunday morning. My bedroom.
The EleanorandViolet.com domain name is expiring. I know this because the hosting company has sent me an email with a warning that says I must renew now or let it go forever. On my laptop, I open our folders of notes and sort through all the ideas we were working on before last April. But they’re only fragments that don’t make sense without Eleanor here to help me decipher her shorthand.
The two of us had different views on what we wanted the magazine to be. Eleanor was older (and bossier), which meant she was usually in charge and usually got her way. I can try to salvage the site, maybe revamp it and turn it into something else—a place where writers can share their work. A place that isn’t about just nail polish and boys and music, but other things too, like how to change a tire or how to speak French or what to expect once you get out into the world.
I write these things down. Then I go onto the site itself and read the last post, written the day before the party—two opposite takes on the book Julie Plum, Girl Exorcist. Not even The Bell Jar or Catcher in the Rye. Nothing important or earth-shattering. Nothing that says: This is the last thing you will ever write before the world changes.
I delete her notes and mine. I delete the hosting company email. And then I empty my trash so that the email is as dead and gone as Eleanor.