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All the Bright Places (Page 25)

All the Bright Places(25)
Author: Jennifer Niven

The car is hot and fumy, even though the windows are open, and when the second movie starts, Roamer and Amanda lie down flat in the enormous front seat and go almost completely quiet. Almost. Every now and then I hear a slurping, smacking sound as if they’re two hungry dogs lapping at the food bowl.

I try watching the movie, and when that doesn’t work, I try writing the scene in my mind. Amanda’s head pops up over the seat, her shirt hanging open so that I can see her bra, which is baby blue with yellow flowers. Like that, I can feel the image burning into my retinas, where it will remain forever.…

There are too many distractions, and so I talk over the noise to Ryan, but he’s more interested in sneaking his hand up my shirt. I’ve managed to make it seventeen years, eight months, two weeks, and one day without having sex in the backseat of an Impala (or anywhere, for that matter), so I tell him I’m dying to see the view, and I push open the door and stand there. We are surrounded by cars and, beyond that, cornfields. There is no view except up. I tilt my head back, suddenly fascinated by the stars. Ryan scrambles after me, and I pretend to know the constellations, pointing them out and making up stories about each one.

I wonder what Finch is doing right now. Maybe he’s playing guitar somewhere. Maybe he’s with a girl. I owe him a wander and, actually, a lot more than that. I don’t want him to think I blew him off today because of my so-called friends. I make a note to research where we should go next as soon as I get home. (Search terms: unusual Indiana attractions, nothing ordinary Indiana, unique Indiana, eccentric Indiana.) I should also have a copy of the map so I make sure I don’t duplicate anything.

Ryan puts his arm around me and kisses me, and for a minute I kiss him. I’m transported back in time, and instead of the Impala, it’s Ryan’s brother’s Jeep, and instead of Roamer and Amanda, it’s Eli Cross and Eleanor, and we’re here at the drive-in seeing a double feature of Die Hard.

Then Ryan’s hand is snaking its way up my shirt again, and I pull away. The Impala is back. Roamer and Amanda are back. The monster movie is back.

I say, “I hate to do this, but I have a curfew.”

“Since when?” Then he seems to remember something. “Sorry, V.” And I know he’s thinking it’s because of the accident.

Ryan offers to walk me home. I tell him no, I’m good, I got this, but he does it anyway.

“I had a great time,” he says on my front step.

“Me too.”

“I’ll call you.”

“Great.”

He leans in to kiss me good night and I turn just slightly so he’ll get my cheek instead. He’s still standing there as I let myself inside the house.

FINCH

Day 15 (I am still awake)

I go to Violet’s early and catch her parents as they’re eating breakfast. He is bearded and serious with deep worry lines around his mouth and eyes, and she looks like Violet will look in about twenty-five years, dark-blond hair falling in waves, face shaped like a heart, everything etched a little more sharply. Her eyes are warm, but her mouth is sad.

They invite me to breakfast, and I ask them about Violet before the accident since I’ve only known her after. By the time she comes downstairs, they are remembering the time she and her sister were supposed to go to New York for spring break two years ago but instead decided to follow Boy Parade from Cincinnati to Indianapolis to Chicago to try to get an interview.

When Violet sees me, she goes, “Finch?” like I might be a dream, and I say, “Boy Parade?”

“Oh my God. Why would you tell him that?”

I can’t help it, I start laughing, and this gets her mom laughing and then her dad too, until the three of us are laughing like old friends while Violet stares at us as if we’ve lost our minds.

Afterward, Violet and I stand in front of her house and, because it’s her turn to pick the place, she gives me a rough idea of the route and tells me to follow her there. Then she takes off across the lawn and toward her driveway.

“I didn’t bring my bike.” Before she can say anything, I hold up my hand like I’m taking an oath. “I, Theodore Finch, being of unsound mind, hereby swear not to drive faster than thirty miles per hour through town, fifty on the interstate. If at any time you want to stop, we stop. I just ask that you give it a chance.”

“It’s snowing.”

She’s exaggerating. It’s barely even coming down.

“Not the kind that sticks. Look, we’ve wandered all we can wander within a reachable-by-bike radius. We can see a lot more if we drive. I mean, the possibilities are pretty much endless. At least sit inside. Humor me. Sit in there and I’ll stand way, way over here, nowhere near the car, so you know I can’t ambush you and start driving.”

She is frozen to the sidewalk. “You can’t keep pushing people to do things they don’t want to do. You just barge in and help yourself and say we’re doing this, we’re doing that, but you don’t listen. You don’t think about anyone else other than yourself.”

“Actually, I’m thinking about you holed up in that room of yours or on that stupid orange bike. Must go here. Must go there. Here. There. Back and forth, but nowhere new or outside those three or four miles.”

“Maybe I like those three or four miles.”

“I don’t think you do. This morning, your parents painted a pretty good picture of the you you used to be. That other Violet sounds fun and kind of badass, even if she had horrible taste in music. Now all I see is someone who’s too afraid to get back out there. Everyone around you is going to give you a gentle push now and then, but never hard enough because they don’t want to upset Poor Violet. You need shoving, not pushing. You need to jump back on that camel. Otherwise you’re going to stay up on the ledge you’ve made for yourself.”

Suddenly she brushes past me. She climbs into the car and sits looking all around. Even though I tried to clean up a little, the center console is stuffed with pencil stubs and pieces of paper, cigarette butts, a lighter, guitar picks. There’s a blanket in the back, and a pillow, and I can tell she’s noticed these by the look she gives me.

“Oh, relax. The plan is not to seduce you. If it was, you’d know it. Seat belt.” She snaps it into place. “Now close the door.” I stand on the lawn, arms crossed as she pulls the door shut.

Then I walk to the driver’s side, open the door, and lean in as she’s reading the back of a napkin from a place called the Harlem Avenue Lounge.

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