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All the Bright Places (Page 32)

All the Bright Places(32)
Author: Jennifer Niven

I join him at the edge, but he’s farther out than I am, as if he doesn’t care whether he falls off. I take hold of his shirt without him noticing, as if that will save him, and instead of looking down, I look out and up. I think of all the things I want to shout: I hate this town! I hate winter! Why did you die? This last thought is directed at Eleanor. Why did you leave me? Why did you do this to me?

But instead I stand there holding on to Finch’s shirt, and he looks down at me and shakes his head, and in a moment he starts singing Dr. Seuss again. This time I join him, and our voices drift together across the sleeping town.

When he drives me home, I want him to kiss me good night, but he doesn’t. Instead, he strolls backward to the street, hands shoved in pockets, eyes on me. “Actually, Ultraviolet, I’m pretty sure you don’t suck at writing.” He says it loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear.

FINCH

Day 22 and I’m still here

The minute we walk into my dad’s house, I know something’s wrong. Rosemarie greets us and invites us into the living room, where Josh Raymond sits on the floor playing with a battery-operated helicopter that flies and makes noise. Kate, Decca, and I all stare, and I know they’re thinking what I’m thinking: toys with batteries are too loud. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have anything that talked or flew or made a sound.

“Where’s Dad?” Kate asks. Looking through the back door, I can see the grill sitting closed. “He came home from the trip, didn’t he?”

“He got back Friday. He’s just in the basement.” Rosemarie is busy handing us sodas to drink straight out of the can, which is another sure sign that something’s wrong.

“I’ll go,” I tell Kate. If he’s in the basement, it can only mean one thing. He’s in one of his moods, as Mom calls them. Don’t mind your father, Theodore; he’s just in one of his moods. Give him time to settle down, and he’ll be fine.

The basement is actually nice and carpeted and painted, with lights everywhere and my dad’s old hockey trophies and framed jersey and bookshelves packed with books, even though he absolutely does not read. Along one entire wall is a giant flat screen, and my dad is planted in front of this now, enormous feet on the coffee table, watching some sort of game and shouting at the television. His face is purple, and the veins in his neck are hulking out. He’s got a beer in one hand and a remote in the other.

I walk over to him so I’m in his line of sight. I stand there, hands in pockets, and stare at him until he looks up. “Christ,” he says. “Don’t go sneaking up on people.”

“I’m not. Unless you’ve gone deaf in your old age, you had to hear me coming down those stairs. Dinner’s ready.”

“I’ll be up in a while.”

I move over so that I’m in front of the flat screen. “You should come up now. Your family’s here—remember us? The originals? We’re here and we’re hungry, and we didn’t come all this way to hang out with your new wife and child.”

I can count on one hand the times I’ve talked to my father like this, but maybe it’s the magic of Badass Finch, because I’m not one bit afraid of him.

He slams the beer so hard against the coffee table that the bottle shatters. “Don’t you come into my house and tell me what to do.” And then he’s off the couch and lunging for me, and he catches me by the arm and wham, slams me into the wall. I hear the crack as my skull makes contact, and for a minute the room spins.

But then it rights itself, and I say, “I have you to thank for the fact that my skull is pretty tough now.” Before he can grab me again, I’m up the stairs.

I’m already at the dinner table by the time he gets there, and the sight of his shiny new family makes him remember himself. He says, “Something smells good,” gives Rosemarie a kiss on the cheek, and sits down across from me, unfolding his napkin. He doesn’t look at me or speak to me the rest of the time we’re there.

In the car afterward, Kate says, “You’re stupid, you know that. He could have put you in the hospital.”

“Let him,” I say.

At home, Mom looks up from her desk, where she is attempting to go over ledgers and bank statements. “How was dinner?”

Before anyone else can answer, I give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, which—since we’re not a family that likes to show affection—leaves her looking alarmed. “I’m going out.”

“Be safe, Theodore.”

“I love you too, Mom.” This throws her even more, and before she can start crying, I am out the door to the garage, climbing into Little B*****d. I feel better once the engine has started. I hold up my hands and they’re shaking, because my hands, like the rest of me, would like to kill my father. Ever since I was ten and he sent Mom to the hospital with a busted chin, and then a year later when it was my turn.

With the garage door still closed, I sit, hands on the wheel, thinking how easy it would be to just keep sitting here.

I close my eyes.

I lean back.

I rest my hands on my lap.

I don’t feel much, except maybe a little sleepy. But that could just be me and the dark, slow-churning vortex that’s always there, in me and around me, to some degree.

The rate of car exhaust suicides in the States has declined since the mid-sixties, when emission controls were introduced. In England, where emission controls barely exist, that rate has doubled.

I am very calm, as if I’m in science class conducting an experiment. The rumble of the engine is a kind of lullaby. I force my mind to go blank, like I do on the rare occasions I try to sleep. Instead of thinking, I picture a body of water and me on my back floating, still and peaceful, no movement except my heart beating in my chest. When they find me, I’ll just look like I’m sleeping.

In 2013, a man in Pennsylvania committed suicide via carbon monoxide, but when his family tried to rescue him, they were overcome by the fumes and every single one of them died before rescue crews could save them.

I think of my mom and Decca and Kate, and then I hit the opener, and up goes the door, and out I go into the wild blue yonder. For the first mile or so, I feel high and excited, like I just ran into a burning building and saved lives, like I’m some sort of hero.

But then a voice in me says, You’re no hero. You’re a coward. You only saved them from yourself.

* * *

When things got bad a couple months ago, I drove to French Lick, which sounds a helluva lot sexier than it is. The original name was Salt Spring, and it’s famous for its casino, fancy spa and resort, basketball player Larry Bird, and healing springs.

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