“What do you say, Ultraviolet?”
She takes a breath. Lets it out. “Okay.”
I go slow at first, barely twenty miles per hour, as I roll through her neighborhood. We take it block by block. At each stop sign and stoplight, I say, “How’re we doing over there?”
“Good. Just fine.”
I pull out onto National Road and pick it up to thirty-five. “How’s this?”
“How about now?”
“Stop asking me.”
We go so slow that cars and trucks are speeding past and honking. One guy yells at us out his window and flips us off. It’s taking all I have not to slam my foot against the gas pedal, but then I’m used to slowing down so that everyone else can catch up.
To distract myself and her, I talk to her like we’re on the bell tower ledge. “My whole life I’ve run either three times faster than everyone else or three times slower. When I was little, I used to race in circles around the living room, over and over, until I wore this ring into the carpet. It got so I started following the ring, until my dad tore up the rug himself, just ripped it right out with his bare hands. Instead of replacing the carpet, he left the concrete exposed so there were these little patches of glue everywhere, with bits of rug stuck to it.”
“So do it. Go fast.”
“Oh no. Forty all the way, baby.” But I bring it up to fifty. Right about now, I’m feeling pretty damn good because I got Violet into the car and my dad is headed out of town on business, which means no Obligatory Family Dinner tonight. “Your parents are awesome, by the way. You lucked out in the parental lottery, Ultraviolet.”
“So … Boy Parade. Did you ever get that interview?”
She gives me a look.
“Okay, tell me about the accident.” I don’t expect her to, but she gazes out the window, then starts talking.
“I don’t remember much of it. I remember getting in the car as we were leaving the party. She and Eli had a fight—”
“They’d been going out for most of last year. She was upset, but she wouldn’t let me drive. I was the one who told her to take the A Street Bridge.” She goes very, very quiet. “I remember the sign that said ‘Bridge ices before road.’ I remember sliding and Eleanor saying, ‘I can’t hold on.’ I remember the air as we went through it, and Eleanor screaming. After that, everything went black. I woke up three hours later in the hospital.”
“Tell me about her.”
She stares out the window. “She was smart, stubborn, moody, funny, mean when she lost her temper, sweet, protective of the people she loved. Her favorite color was yellow. She always had my back, even if we fought sometimes. I could tell her anything, because the thing about Eleanor was that she didn’t judge. She was my best friend.”
“I’ve never had one. What’s it like?”
“I don’t know. I guess you can be yourself, whatever that means—the best and the worst of you. And they love you anyway. You can fight, but even when you’re mad at them, you know they’re not going to stop being your friend.”
“I might need to get one of those.”
“Listen, I wanted to say I’m sorry about Roamer and those guys.”
The speed limit is seventy, but I make myself stay at sixty. “It’s not your fault. And sorry wastes time. You have to live your life like you’ll never be sorry. It’s easier just to do the right thing from the start so there’s nothing to apologize for.” Not that I’m one to talk.
The Bookmobile Park is just outside Bartlett on a country road lined with cornfields. Because the earth is flat and there are hardly any trees, the trailers rise out of the landscape like skyscrapers. I lean forward over the wheel. “What the hell …?”
Violet is leaning forward too, hands on the dashboard. As I turn off the pavement onto gravel, she says, “We used to do this thing in California where sometimes my parents and Eleanor and I would get in the car and go on a bookstore hunt. We each chose a book we wanted to find, and we couldn’t go home till we’d found copies of all of them. We might hit up eight or ten stores in a day.”
She’s out of the car before I am and heading toward the first bookmobile—an Airstream trailer from the 1950s—which is across the gravel and across the field. There are seven trailers in all, different makes and models and years, and they sit in a line with the corn growing up around them. Each one advertises a specific category of books.
“This is one of the coolest f*****g things I’ve ever seen.” I don’t know if Violet even hears me because she’s already climbing up into the first trailer.
“Watch that mouth, young man.” A hand is being extended, and now I’m shaking that hand, and it belongs to a short, round woman with bleached yellow hair, warm eyes, and a crinkled-up face. “Faye Carnes.”
“Theodore Finch. Are you the mastermind behind this?” I nod at the line of bookmobiles.
“I am.” She walks, and I follow. “The county discontinued bookmobile service in the eighties, and I told my husband, ‘Now, that’s a shame. I mean, a true-blue shame. What’s going to happen to those trailers? Someone ought to buy them and keep them going.’ So we did. At first we drove them around town ourselves, but my husband, Franklin, he’s got a bad back, so we decided to plant them, just like corn, and let folks come to us.”
Mrs. Carnes leads me from trailer to trailer, and at each one I go up and in and explore. I pick through stacks of hardcovers and paperbacks, all of them well used and well read. I’m looking for something in particular, but so far I don’t see it.
Mrs. Carnes follows along, straightening the books, dusting off the shelves, and tells me about husband Franklin and daughter Sara, and son Franklin Jr., who made the mistake of marrying a girl from Kentucky, which means they never see him except at Christmas. She’s a talker, but I like her.
Violet finds us in trailer six (children’s), her arms full of classics. She says hello to Mrs. Carnes and asks, “How does this work? Do I need my library card?”
“You got the choice of buying or borrowing, but either way you don’t need a card. If you borrow, we trust you to bring them back. If you buy, we only take cash.”
“I’d like to buy.” Violet nods at me. “Can you reach the money in my bag?”