“Hello, all of you!” I shout as I run. “It’s a beautiful day! A perfect day! A day of possibility!” They’re so listless, they barely look up to see me.
The first time I find Violet, she’s walking with her friend Shelby Padgett. The second time, she says, “Finch, again?” It’s hard to tell if she’s happy to see me or embarrassed, or a combination. The third time, she says, “Aren’t you going to be late?”
“What’s the worst they can do?” I grab her hand and drag her bumping along. “Coming through, people! Clear the way!” After seeing her to Russian literature, I jog back down the stairs and down more stairs and through the main hall, where I run directly into Principal Wertz, who wants to know what I think I’m doing out of class, young man, and why I’m running as if the enemy is on my heels.
“Just patrolling, sir. You can’t be too safe these days. I’m sure you’ve read about the security breaches over at Rushville and New Castle. Computer equipment stolen, library books destroyed, money taken from the front office, and all in the light of day, right under their noses.”
I’m making this up, but it’s clear he doesn’t know that. “Get to class,” he tells me. “And don’t let me catch you again. Do I need to remind you you’re on probation?”
“No, sir.” I make a show of walking calmly in the other direction, but when the next bell rings, I take off down the hall and up the stairs like I’m on fire.
The first people I see are Amanda, Roamer, and Ryan, and I make the mistake of accidentally ramming into Roamer, which sends him into Amanda. The contents of her purse go spiraling across the hallway floor, and she starts screaming. Before Ryan and Roamer can beat me to a six-foot-three-inch bloody pulp, I sprint away, putting as much distance between them and me as I can. I’ll pay for this later, but right now I don’t care.
This time Violet is waiting. As I double over, catching my breath, she says, “Why are you doing this?” And I can tell she isn’t happy or embarrassed, she’s pissed.
“Let’s run so you’re not late to class.”
“I’m not running anywhere.”
“I can’t help you then.”
“Oh my God. You are driving me crazy, Finch.”
I lean in, and she backs up into a locker. Her eyes are darting everywhere like she’s terrified someone might see Violet Markey and Theodore Finch together. God forbid Ryan Cross walks by and gets the wrong idea. I wonder what she’d say to him—It’s not what it looks like. Theodore Freak is harassing me. He won’t leave me alone.
“Glad I can return the favor.” Now I’m pissed. I rest one hand against the locker behind her. “You know, you’re a lot friendlier when we’re by ourselves and no one’s around to see us together.”
“Maybe if you didn’t run through the halls and shout at everyone. I can’t tell if you do all this because it’s expected or because it’s just the way you are.”
“What do you think?” My mouth is an inch from hers, and I wait for her to slap me or push me away, but then she closes her eyes, and that’s when I know—I’m in.
Okay, I think. Interesting turn of events. But before I can make a move, someone yanks me by the collar and jerks me back. Mr. Kappel, baseball coach, says, “Get to class, Finch. You too.” He nods at Violet. “And that’s detention for the both of you.”
After school, she walks into Mr. Stohler’s room and doesn’t even look at me. Mr. Stohler says, “I guess there really is a first time for everything. We’re honored to have your company, Miss Markey. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“To him,” she says, nodding in my direction. She takes a seat at the front of the room, as far away from me as she can get.
142 days to go
Two a.m. Wednesday. My bedroom.
I wake up to the sound of rocks at my window. At first I think I’m dreaming, but then I hear it again. I get up and peek through the blinds, and Theodore Finch is standing in my front yard dressed in pajama bottoms and a dark hoodie.
I open the window and lean out. “Go away.” I’m still mad at him for getting me detention, first of my life. And I’m mad at Ryan for thinking we’re going out again, and whose fault is that? I’ve been acting like a tease, kissing him on his dimple, kissing him at the drive-in. I’m mad at everyone, mostly myself. “Go away,” I say again.
“Please don’t make me climb this tree, because I’ll probably fall and break my neck and we have too much to do for me to be hospitalized.”
“We don’t have anything else to do. We’ve already done it.”
But I smooth my hair and roll on some lip gloss and pull on a bathrobe. If I don’t go down, who knows what might happen?
By the time I get outside, Finch is sitting on the front porch, leaning back against the railing. “I thought you’d never come,” he says.
I sit down beside him, and the step is cold through my layers. “Why are you here?”
“Were you awake?”
“Sorry. But now that you are, let’s go.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
He stands and starts walking to the car. He turns and says too loudly, “Come on.”
“I can’t just take off when I want to.”
“You’re not still mad, are you?”
“Actually, yes. But look at me. I’m not even dressed.”
“Fine. Leave the ugly bathrobe. Get some shoes and a jacket. Do not take time to change anything else. Write a note to your parents so they won’t worry if they wake up and find you gone. I’ll give you three minutes before I come up after you.”
We drive toward Bartlett’s downtown. The blocks are bricked off into what we call the Boardwalk. Ever since the new mall opened, there’s been no reason to come here except for the bakery, which has the best cupcakes for miles. The businesses here are hangers-on, relics from about twenty years ago—a sad and very old department store, a shoe store that smells like mothballs, a toy store, a candy shop, an ice cream parlor.
Finch parks the S****n and says, “We’re here.”
All the storefronts are dark, of course, and there is no one out. It’s easy to pretend that Finch and I are the only two people in the world.
He says, “I do my best thinking at night when everyone else is sleeping. No interruptions. No noise. I like the feeling of being awake when no one else is.” I wonder if he sleeps at all.