“So it’ll be an open coffin for me, which means if I jump, it ain’t gonna be pretty. Besides, I kind of like my face intact like this, two eyes, one nose, one mouth, a full set of teeth, which, if I’m being honest, is one of my better features.” I smile so she can see what I mean. Everything where it should be, on the outside at least.
When she doesn’t say anything, I go on inching and talking. “Most of all, I feel bad for the undertaker. What a shitty job that must be anyway, but then to have to deal with an a*****e like me?”
From down below, someone yells, “Violet? Is that Violet up there?”
“Oh God,” she says, so low I barely hear it. “OhGodohGodohGod.” The wind blows her skirt and hair, and it looks like she’s going to fly away.
There is general buzzing from the ground, and I shout, “Don’t try to save me! You’ll only kill yourself!” Then I say, very low, just to her, “Here’s what I think we should do.” I’m about a foot away from her now. “I want you to throw your shoes toward the bell and then hold on to the rail, just grab right onto it, and once you’ve got it, lean against it and then lift your right foot up and over. Got that?”
She nods and almost loses her balance.
“Don’t nod. And whatever you do, don’t go the wrong way and step forward instead of back. I’ll count you off. On three.”
She throws her boots in the direction of the bell, and they fall with a thud, thud onto the concrete.
“One. Two. Three.”
She grips the stone and kind of props herself against it and then lifts her leg up and over so that she’s sitting on the railing. She stares down at the ground and I can see that she’s frozen again, and so I say, “Good. Great. Just stop looking down.”
She slowly looks at me and then reaches for the floor of the bell tower with her right foot, and once she’s found it, I say, “Now get that left leg back over however you can. Don’t let go of the wall.” By now she’s shaking so hard I can hear her teeth chatter, but I watch as her left foot joins her right, and she is safe.
So now it’s just me out here. I gaze down at the ground one last time, past my size-thirteen feet that won’t stop growing—today I’m wearing sneakers with fluorescent laces—past the open windows of the fourth floor, the third, the second, past Amanda Monk, who is cackling from the front steps and swishing her blond hair like a pony, books over her head, trying to flirt and protect herself from the rain at the same time.
I gaze past all of this at the ground itself, which is now slick and damp, and imagine myself lying there.
I could just step off. It would be over in seconds. No more “Theodore Freak.” No more hurt. No more anything.
I try to get past the unexpected interruption of saving a life and return to the business at hand. For a minute, I can feel it: the sense of peace as my mind goes quiet, like I’m already dead. I am weightless and free. Nothing and no one to fear, not even myself.
Then a voice from behind me says, “I want you to hold on to the rail, and once you’ve got it, lean against it and lift your right foot up and over.”
Like that, I can feel the moment passing, maybe already passed, and now it seems like a stupid idea, except for picturing the look on Amanda’s face as I go sailing by her. I laugh at the thought. I laugh so hard I almost fall off, and this scares me—like, really scares me—and I catch myself and Violet catches me as Amanda looks up. “Weirdo!” someone shouts. Amanda’s little group snickers. She cups her big mouth and aims it skyward. “You okay, V?”
Violet leans over the rail, still holding on to my legs. “I’m okay.”
The door at the top of the tower stairs cracks open and my best friend, Charlie Donahue, appears. Charlie is black. Not CW black, but black-black. He also gets laid more than anyone else I know.
He says, “They’re serving pizza today,” as if I wasn’t standing on a ledge six stories above the ground, my arms outstretched, a girl wrapped around my knees.
“Why don’t you go ahead and get it over with, freak?” Gabe Romero, better known as Roamer, better known as Dumbass, yells from below. More laughter.
Because I’ve got a date with your mother later, I think but don’t say because, let’s face it, it’s lame, and also he will come up here and beat my face in and then throw me off, and this defeats the point of just doing it myself.
Instead I shout, “Thanks for saving me, Violet. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t come along. I guess I’d be dead right now.”
The last face I see below belongs to my school counselor, Mr. Embry. As he glares up at me, I think, Great. Just great.
I let Violet help me over the wall and onto the concrete. From down below, there’s a smattering of applause, not for me, but for Violet, the hero. Up close like this, I can see that her skin is smooth and clear except for two freckles on her right cheek, and her eyes are a gray-green that makes me think of fall. It’s the eyes that get me. They are large and arresting, as if she sees everything. As warm as they are, they are busy, no-bullshit eyes, the kind that can look right into you, which I can tell even through the glasses. She’s pretty and tall, but not too tall, with long, restless legs and curvy hips, which I like on a girl. Too many high school girls are built like boys.
“I was just sitting there,” she says. “On the railing. I didn’t come up here to—”
“Let me ask you something. Do you think there’s such a thing as a perfect day?”
“A perfect day. Start to finish. When nothing terrible or sad or ordinary happens. Do you think it’s possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you ever had one?”
“I’ve never had one either, but I’m looking for it.”
She whispers, “Thank you, Theodore Finch.” She reaches up and kisses me on the cheek, and I can smell her shampoo, which reminds me of flowers. She says into my ear, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” Carrying her boots, she hurries away and out of the rain, back through the door that leads to the flight of dark and rickety stairs that takes you down to one of the many too-bright and too-crowded school hallways.
Charlie watches her go and, as the door swings closed behind her, he turns back to me. “Man, why do you do that?”