Which is why it pays to pretend you’re just like everyone else, even if you’ve always known you’re different. It’s your own fault, I told myself then—my fault I can’t be normal, my fault I can’t be like Roamer or Ryan or Charlie or the others. It’s your own fault, I tell myself now.
While I’m up on the chair, I try to imagine the Asleep is coming. When you’re infamous and invincible, it’s hard to picture being anything but awake, but I make myself concentrate because this is important—it’s life or death.
Smaller spaces are better, and my room is big. But maybe I can cut it in half by moving my bookcase and dresser. I pick up the rug and start pushing things into place. No one comes up to ask what the hell I’m doing, although I know my mom and Decca and Kate, if she’s home, must hear the pulling and scraping across the floor.
I wonder what would have to happen for them to come in here—a bomb blast? A nuclear explosion? I try to remember the last time any of them were in my room, and the only thing I can come up with is a time four years ago when I really did have the flu. Even then, Kate was the one who took care of me.
Days 16 and 17
In order to make up for missing Friday, I decide to tell Embryo about Violet. I don’t mention her by name, but I’ve got to say something to someone other than Charlie or Brenda, who don’t do more than ask me if I’ve gotten laid yet or remind me of the a*s-kicking Ryan Cross will give me if I ever make a move on her.
First, though, Embryo has to ask me if I’ve tried to hurt myself. We run through this routine every week, and it goes something like this:
Embryo: Have you tried to hurt yourself since I saw you last?
Me: No, sir.
Embryo: Have you thought about hurting yourself?
Me: No, sir.
I’ve learned the hard way that the best thing to do is say nothing about what you’re really thinking. If you say nothing, they’ll assume you’re thinking nothing, only what you let them see.
Embryo: Are you bullshitting me, son?
Me: Would I bullshit you, an authority figure?
Because he still hasn’t acquired a sense of humor, he squints at me and says, “I certainly hope not.”
Then he decides to break routine. “I know about the article in the Bartlett Dirt.”
I actually sit speechless for a few seconds. Finally I say, “You can’t always believe what you read, sir.” It comes out snarky. I decide to drop the sarcasm and try again. Maybe it’s because he’s thrown me. Or maybe it’s because he’s worried and he means well, and he is one of the few adults in my life who pay attention. “Really.” My voice actually cracks, making it clear to both of us that the stupid article bothers me more than I let on.
After this exchange is over, I spend the rest of the time proving to him how much I have to live for. Today is the first day I’ve brought up Violet.
“So there’s this girl. Let’s call her Lizzy.” Elizabeth Meade is head of the macramé club. She’s so nice, I don’t think she’d mind if I borrowed her name in the interest of guarding my privacy. “She and I have gotten to be kind of friendly, and that’s making me very, very happy. Like stupidly happy. Like so-happy-my-friends-can’t-stand-to-be-around-me happy.”
He is studying me as if trying to figure out my angle. I go on about Lizzy and how happy we are, and how all I want to do is spend my days being happy about how happy I am, which is actually true, but finally he says, “Enough. I get it. Is this ‘Lizzy’ the girl from the paper?” He makes air quotes around her name. “The one who saved you from jumping off the ledge?”
“Possibly.” I wonder if he’d believe me if I told him it was the other way around.
“Just be careful.”
No, no, no, Embryo, I want to say. You, of all people, should know better than to say something like this when someone is so happy. “Just be careful” implies that there’s an end to it all, maybe in an hour, maybe in three years, but an end just the same. Would it kill him to be, like, I’m really glad for you, Theodore. Congratulations on finding someone who makes you feel so good?
“You know, you could just say congratulations and stop there.”
“Congratulations.” But it’s too late. He’s already put it out there and now my brain has grabbed onto “Just be careful” and won’t let go. I try to tell it he might have meant “Just be careful when you have sex. Use a condom,” but instead, because, you know, it’s a brain, and therefore has—is—a mind of its own, it starts thinking of every way in which Violet Markey might break my heart.
I pick at the arm of the chair where someone has sliced it in three places. I wonder who and how as I pick pick pick and try to silence my brain by thinking up Embryo’s epitaph. When this doesn’t work, I make up one for my mother (I was a wife and am still a mother, although don’t ask me where my children are) and my father (The only change I believe in is getting rid of your wife and children and starting over with someone else).
Embryo says, “Let’s talk about the SAT. You got a 2280.” He sounds so surprised and impressed, I want to say, Oh yeah? Screw you, Embryo.
The truth is, I test well. I always have. I say, “Congratulations would be appropriate here as well.”
He charges on ahead as if he hasn’t heard me. “Where are you planning on going to college?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Don’t you think it’s time to give some thought to the future?”
I do think about it. Like the fact that I’ll see Violet later today.
“I do think about it,” I say. “I’m thinking about it right now.”
He sighs and closes my file. “I’ll see you Friday. If you need anything, call me.”
Because BHS is a giant school with a giant population of students, I don’t see Violet as often as you might think. The only class we have together is U.S. Geography. I’m in the basement when she’s on the third floor, I’m in the gym when she’s all the way across the school in Orchestra Hall, I’m in the science wing when she’s in Spanish.
On Tuesday, I say to hell with it and meet her outside every one of her classes so I can walk her to the next. This sometimes means running from one end of the building to the other, but it’s worth every step. My legs are long, so I can cover a lot of ground, even if I have to dodge people left and right and sometimes leap over their heads. This is easy to do because they move in slow motion, like a herd of zombies or slugs.