Charlie brings Brenda for fashion backup, even though nothing she wears ever matches, something she swears she does on purpose. While Charlie talks up one of the salesgirls, Bren follows me from rack to rack yawning. She flips halfheartedly through hangers of leather jackets. “What exactly are we looking for?”
I say, “I need to be regentrified.” She yawns again without covering her mouth, and I can see her fillings. “Late night?”
She grins, bright-pink lips spreading wide. “Amanda Monk had a party Saturday night. I made out with Gabe Romero.” In addition to being Amanda’s boyfriend, Roamer is the biggest prick in school. For some reason, Bren has had a thing for him since freshman year.
“Will he remember it?”
Her grin fades a little. “He was pretty wasted, but I left one of these in his pocket.” She holds up a hand and waves her fingers. One of her blue plastic fingernails is missing. “And, just in case, my nose ring.”
“I thought you looked different today.”
“That’s just the glow.” She’s more awake now. She claps her hands together and rubs them all mad-scientist-like. “So what are we looking for?”
“I don’t know. Something a little less squeaky clean, maybe a little sexier. I’m done with the eighties.”
She frowns. “Is this about what’s-her-name? The skinny chick?”
“Violet Markey, and she’s not skinny. She has hips.”
“And a sweet, sweet a*s.” Charlie has joined us now.
“No.” Bren is shaking her head so hard and fast, it looks as if she’s having a seizure. “You don’t dress to please a girl—especially not a girl like that. You dress to please yourself. If she doesn’t like you for you, then you don’t need her.” All of this would be fine if I knew exactly who me for me was. She goes on: “This is the girl with the blog, the one that actress Gemma Sterling likes? The one who saved her ‘crazy classmate’ from jumping? Well, screw her and her skinny, skinny a*s.” Bren hates all girls who aren’t at least a size twelve.
As she rattles on, about Violet, about Gemma Sterling, about the Bartlett Dirt, I don’t say anything else. I suddenly don’t want Bren or Charlie to talk about Violet, because I want to keep her to myself, like the Christmas I was eight—back when Christmases were still good—and got my first guitar, which I named No Trespassing, as in no one could touch it but me.
Finally, though, I have no choice but to interrupt Bren. “She was in that accident last April with her sister, the one where they drove off the A Street Bridge.”
“Oh my God. That was her?”
“Her sister was a senior.”
“S**t.” Bren cradles her chin in her hand and taps it. “You know, maybe you should play it a little safer.” Her voice is softer. “Think Ryan Cross. You see how he dresses. We should go to Old Navy or American Eagle, or better yet, to Abercrombie over in Dayton.”
Charlie says to Brenda, “She’s never gonna go for him. Doesn’t matter what he wears. No offense, man.”
“None taken. And f**k Ryan Cross.” I use that word for the first time in my life. It feels so liberating that I suddenly feel like running around the store. “F**k him.” I decide the new Finch swears whenever and however he wants to. He’s the kind of Finch who would stand on a building and think about jumping just because nothing scares him. He is seriously badass.
“In that case.” Charlie yanks a jacket off its hanger and holds it up. It’s pretty badass too. All scuffed, worn-out leather, like something Keith Richards might have worn way, way back in the day.
It’s pretty much the coolest jacket I’ve ever seen. I’m pulling it on as Bren sighs, walks away, and comes strolling back with a giant pair of black Beatles boots. “They’re size fourteen,” she says. “But the way you grow, you’ll fill them out by Friday.”
By lunch, I’m starting to dig Badass Finch. For one thing, girls seem to like him. A cute underclassman actually stops me in the hall and asks if I need help finding my way. She must be a freshman, because it’s clear she has no idea who I am. When she wants to know if I’m from London, I say cheers and aye up and bangers and mash, in what I think is a pretty convincing accent. She alternately giggles and flips her hair as she guides me to the cafeteria.
Because BHS has some two thousand students, they have us divided into three different lunch periods. Brenda skips class today to eat with Charlie and me, and I greet them with a cheerio and ’ello, mates, and you’re the dog’s bollocks, and such. Bren just blinks at me, then blinks at Charlie. “Please tell me he’s not British.” He shrugs and keeps eating.
I spend the rest of lunch hour talking to them about my favorite spots back home—Honest Jon’s, Rough Trade East, and Out on the Floor, the record shops I hang out in. I tell them about my mean but sexy Irish girlfriend, Fiona, and my best blokes, Tam and Natz. By the time lunch is through, I’ve created a universe I can see down to the last detail—the Sex Pistols and Joy Division posters on my wall, the fags I smoke out the window of the flat Fiona and I share, the nights spent playing music at the Hope and Anchor and the Halfmoon, the days devoted to cutting records at Abbey Road studios. When the bell rings and Charlie says, “Let’s go, you todger,” I feel homesick for this London I left behind.
Yes, sir. As I walk through the halls, there’s no telling what Badass British Finch might do. Take over the school, take over the town, take over the world. It will be a world of compassion, of neighbor loving neighbor, of student loving student or at least treating one another with respect. No judgments. No name-calling. No more, no more, no more.
By the time I get to U.S. Geography, I’ve almost convinced myself this world exists. Until I see Ryan Cross, all gold, flowing, his hand on the back of Violet’s chair as if he’s the host at the Macaroni Grill. He is smiling at her and talking, and she is smiling at him with her mouth closed, gray-green eyes wide and serious behind her glasses, and just like that, I am Indiana-born Theodore Finch in a pair of secondhand boots. Guys like Ryan Cross have a way of reminding you who you are, even when you don’t want to remember.
As I try to catch Violet’s eye, she’s too busy nodding and listening to Ryan, and then Roamer is there and Amanda Monk, who fixes me with a death glare and snaps, “What are you looking at?” Then Violet is swallowed by them, so all I can do is stare in the direction of where she once was.