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All the Bright Places (Page 20)

All the Bright Places(20)
Author: Jennifer Niven

“This is it?” I can’t help saying.

Some high point. It’s amazingly underwhelming. But then what did I expect?

He takes my hand and pulls me up after him so that we’re standing on the stones.

In that instant his skin touches mine, I feel a little shock.

I tell myself it’s nothing more than the understandable jolt of actual physical contact when you aren’t used to it from someone new. But then these electric currents start shooting up my arm, and he is rubbing my palm with his thumb, which makes the currents go shooting through the rest of me. Uh-oh.

In the Australian accent he says, “What do we think?” His hand is firm and warm, and somehow, big as it is, it fits with mine.

“If we’re here from Perth?” I’m distracted by the electric currents and trying not to show it. If I do, I know he will never let me hear the end of it.

“Or maybe we’ve come from Moscow.” He has a good Russian accent too.

“We are seriously pissed.”

In his own voice he says, “Not as pissed as the folks over at Sand Hill, the second-highest spot in Indiana. It’s only 1,076 feet, and they don’t even have a picnic area.”

“If they’re second, they don’t really need one.”

“An excellent point. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not even worth looking at. Not when you’ve got Hoosier Hill.” He smiles at me, and for the first time I notice how blue his eyes are—like, bright-sky blue. “At least it feels that way standing here with you.” He closes his blue eyes and breathes in. When he opens them again, he says, “Actually, standing next to you makes it feel as high as Everest.”

I yank my hand back. Even after I let go, I can feel the stupid current. “Shouldn’t we be collecting things? Writing stuff down? Shooting video? How do we organize this?”

“We don’t. When we’re in the act of wandering, we need to be present, not watching it through a lens.”

Together, we look out over the circle of brown and the bench and the trees and the flat, white landscape beyond. Ten months ago, I would have stood here writing this place in my head. There is this sign, which is a good thing, because otherwise you would never know you’re looking at the highest point in Indiana.… I would have thought up an entire backstory for the kids, something epic and exciting. Now they’re just Indiana farm kids hanging on a fence.

I say, “I think this is the ugliest place I’ve ever seen. Not just here. The whole state.” I hear my parents telling me not to be negative, which is funny because I’ve always been the happy one. It’s Eleanor who was moody.

“I used to think that. But then I realized, believe it or not, it’s actually beautiful to some people. It must be, because enough people live here, and they can’t all think it’s ugly.” He smiles out at the ugly trees and the ugly farmland and the ugly kids as if he can see Oz. As if he can really, truly see the beauty that’s there. In that moment I wish I could see it through his eyes. I wish he had glasses to give me. “Also, I figure while I’m here, I might as well get to know it, you know—see what there is to see.”

“Wander Indiana?”

“Yeah.”

“You look different than you did the other day.”

He glances at me sideways, eyes half closed. “It’s the altitude.”

I laugh and then stop myself.

“It’s okay to laugh, you know. The earth’s not going to split open. You’re not going to hell. Believe me. If there’s a hell, I’ll be there ahead of you, and they’ll be too busy with me to even check you in.”

I want to ask what happened to him. Is it true he had a breakdown? Is it true he OD’d? Where was he at the end of last semester?

“I’ve heard a lot of stories.”

“About me?”

“Are they true?”

“Probably.”

He shakes the hair out of his eyes and stares at me good and hard. His gaze trails slowly down my face to my mouth. For a second, I think he’s going to kiss me. For a second, I want him to.

“So we can cross this one off, right? One down, one to go. Where to next?” I sound like my dad’s secretary.

“I’ve got a map in my backpack.” He doesn’t make a move to get it. Instead he stands there, breathing it in, looking all around. I want to get to the map because that’s how I am, or used to be, ready for the next thing once I’ve got it in my mind. But he’s not going anywhere, and then his hand finds mine again. Instead of snatching it back, I make myself stand here too, and actually it’s nice. The electric currents are racing. My body is humming. The breeze is blowing, rustling the leaves on the trees. It’s almost like music. We stand side by side, looking out and up and around.

And then he says, “Let’s jump.”

“Are you sure? It is the high point of Indiana.”

“I’m sure. It’s now or never, but I need to know if you’re with me.”

“Okay.”

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

“On three.”

We jump just as the kids ramble up. We land, dusty and laughing. In the Australian accent Finch says to them, “We’re professionals. Whatever you do, don’t try this at home.”

The things we leave behind are some British coins, a red guitar pick, and a Bartlett High keychain. We store them in this hide-a-key fake rock that Finch found in his garage. He wedges it in among the stones that surround the high point. He brushes the dirt off his hands as he stands. “Whether you want to or not, now we’ll always be a part of here. Unless those kids get in there and rob us blind.”

My hand feels cold without his. I pull out my phone and say, “We need to document this somehow.” I start taking pictures before he nods okay, and we take turns posing on the high point.

Then he gets the map out of his backpack along with a college-ruled notebook. He hands me the notebook and a pen, and when I say, “That’s okay,” he tells me his handwriting is like chicken scratch and it’s up to me to keep the notes. The thing I can’t say is I’d rather drive all the way to Indianapolis than write in this notebook.

But because he’s watching me, I scrawl down a few things—location, date, time, a brief description of the place itself and the kids by the fence—and afterward, we spread the map out on the picnic table.

Finch traces the red highway lines with his index finger. “I know Black mentioned picking two wonders and running with them, but I don’t think that’s enough. I think we need to see all of them.”

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