Mr. Black wheezes to the front of the room as the bell rings and asks if anyone has questions about the project. Hands go up, and one by one he addresses the concerns. “Get out there and see … your state. Go to museums … and parks … and historic sites. Get yourselves … some culture … so that when you do leave … you can take it with you.”
In my very best British, I say, “But I thought you can’t take it with you.”
Violet laughs. She is the only one. As soon as she does, she turns away from everyone and stares at the wall beside her right shoulder.
When the bell rings, I walk past Ryan Cross and Roamer and Amanda until I’m standing so close to Violet that I can smell her flower shampoo. The thing about Badass Finch is that guys like Ryan Cross don’t intimidate him for long.
Amanda says, “Can we help you?” in her nasally little-girl voice.
In my regular, non-British accent I say to Violet, “It’s time to start wandering.”
“Where?” Her eyes are cold and a little wary, as if she’s afraid I might out her right here, right now.
“Have you been to Hoosier Hill?”
“It’s the highest point in the state.”
“I thought you might like it. Unless you have a fear of heights.” I c**k my head.
Her face goes blank and then she recovers, the corners of her perfect mouth turning up in a perfect fake smile. “No. I’m okay with them.”
“She saved you from jumping off that ledge, didn’t she?” This is from Amanda. She waves her phone, where I can just make out the headline from the Bartlett Dirt.
Roamer mumbles, “Maybe you should go back up there and try again.”
“And miss the opportunity to see Indiana? No thanks.” Their eyes bore into me as I look at Violet. “Let’s go.”
“No time like the present, and all that. You of all people should know we’re only guaranteed right now.”
Roamer says, “Hey, a*****e, why don’t you ask her boyfriend?”
I say to Roamer, “Because I’m not interested in Ryan, I’m interested in Violet.” I say to Ryan, “It’s not a date, man. It’s a project.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Violet says, and Ryan looks so hurt that I almost feel bad for him, except that it’s impossible to feel bad for a guy like him. “I can’t skip class.”
“Because I’m not a delinquent.” Her tone is clear—not like you—and I tell myself she’s only putting it on for the crowd.
“I’ll wait for you in the parking lot after school.” On the way out, I pause. “ ‘Come,’ I say, ‘come.’ ”
It might be my imagination, but she almost smiles.
“Freak,” I hear Amanda mutter as I walk out. I accidentally whack my elbow against the doorframe, and, for good luck, whack the other.
151 days till graduation
Three thirty. School parking lot.
I stand in the sun, shading my eyes. At first I don’t see him. Maybe he left without me. Or maybe I went out the wrong door. Our town is small but our school is large. We have over two thousand students because we’re the only high school for miles. He could be anywhere.
I am holding on to the handles of my bike, an old orange ten-speed inherited from Eleanor. She named it Leroy because she liked being able to say to our parents, “I was out riding Leroy,” and “I’m just going to ride Leroy for a while.”
Brenda Shank-Kravitz stalks by, a bright-pink storm cloud. Charlie Donahue saunters behind. “He’s over there,” Brenda says. She points a blue-nailed finger at me. “If you break his heart, I will kick that skinny a*s all the way to Kentucky. I mean it. The last thing he needs is you playing with his head. Understood?”
“And I’m sorry. You know. About your sister.”
I look in the direction Brenda pointed and there he is. Theodore Finch leans against an SUV, hands in pockets, like he has all the time in the world and he expects me. I think of the Virginia Woolf lines, the ones from The Waves: “Pale, with dark hair, the one who is coming is melancholy, romantic. And I am arch and fluent and capricious; for he is melancholy, he is romantic. He is here.”
I wheel the bike over to him. His dark hair is kind of wild and messy like he’s been at the beach, even though there’s no beach in Bartlett, and shines blue-black in the light. His pale skin is so white, I can see the veins in his arms.
He opens the passenger door to his car. “After you.”
“I told you no driving.”
“I forgot my bike, so we’ll have to go to my house and get it.”
“Then I’ll follow you.”
He drives slower than he needs to, and ten minutes later we reach his house. It’s a two-story brick colonial with shrubs crowding under the windows, black shutters, and a red door. There’s a matching red mailbox that says FINCH. I wait in the driveway while he sorts through the mess of a garage, searching for a bicycle. Finally he lifts it up and out, and I watch the muscles in his arms flex.
“You can leave your bag in my room.” He’s wiping the dust off the bike seat with his shirt.
“But my stuff’s in there.…” A book on the history of Indiana, checked out from the library after last period, and plastic bags of various sizes—courtesy of one of the lunch ladies—for any souvenirs we might collect.
“I’ve got it covered.” He unlocks the door and holds it open for me. Inside, it looks like a regular, ordinary house, not one I’d expect Theodore Finch to live in. I follow him upstairs. The walls are lined with framed school photos. Finch in kindergarten. Finch in middle school. He looks different every year, not just agewise but personwise. Class-clown Finch. Awkward Finch. Cocky Finch. Jock Finch. At the end of the hall, he pushes open a door.
The walls are a dark, deep red, and everything else is black—desk, chair, bookcase, bedspread, guitars. One entire wall is covered in pictures and Post-it notes and napkins and torn pieces of paper. On the other walls there are concert posters and a large black-and-white photo of him onstage somewhere, guitar in hand.
I stand in front of the wall of notes and say, “What’s all this?”
“Plans,” he says. “Songs. Ideas. Visions.” He throws my bag onto his bed and digs something out of a drawer.