When we’re done, and she goes off in search of other books, I pick up the discarded ones and hunt through the pages until I find the words I’m looking for. I leave them on her pillow: MAKE IT LOVELY. Then I take the unwanted, cut-up books with me down the hall.
Where something is different about my room.
I stand in the doorway trying to figure out exactly what it is. The red walls are there. The black bedspread, dresser, desk, and chair are in place. The bookshelf may be too full. I study the room from where I stand because I don’t want to go inside until I know what’s wrong. My guitars are where I left them. The windows are bare because I don’t like curtains.
The room looks like it did earlier today. But it feels different, as if someone has been in here and moved things around. I cross the floor slowly, as if that same someone might jump out, and open the door to my closet, half expecting it to lead into the real version of my room, the right one.
Everything is fine.
You are fine.
I walk into the bathroom and strip off my clothes and step under the hot-hot water, standing there until my skin turns red and the water heater gives out. I wrap myself in a towel and write Just be careful across the fogged-up mirror. I walk back into the room to give it another look from another angle. The room is just as I left it, and I think maybe it isn’t the room that’s different. Maybe it’s me.
In the bathroom again, I hang up my towel, throw on a T-shirt and boxers, and catch sight of myself in the mirror over the sink as the steam starts to clear and the writing fades away, leaving an oval just large enough for two blue eyes, wet black hair, white skin. I lean in and look at myself, and it’s not my face but someone else’s.
On my bed, I sit down and flip through the cut-up books one by one, reading all the cut-up passages. They are happy and sweet, funny and warm. I want to be surrounded by them, and so I clip out some of the best lines and the very best words—like “symphony,” “limitless,” “gold,” “morning”—and stick them on the wall, where they overlap with others, a combination of colors and shapes and moods.
I pull the comforter up around me, as tight as I can—so that I can’t even see the room anymore—and lie back on my bed like a mummy. It’s a way to keep in the warmth and the light so that it can’t get out again. I reach one hand through the opening and pick up another book and then another. What if life could be this way? Only the happy parts, none of the terrible, not even the mildly unpleasant. What if we could just cut out the bad and keep the good? This is what I want to do with Violet—give her only the good, keep away the bad, so that good is all we ever have around us.
138 days to go
Sunday night. My bedroom. I flip through our notebook, Finch’s and mine. I pick up the pen he gave me and find a blank page. Bookmarks and the Purina Tower aren’t official wanderings, but this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be remembered too.
Stars in the sky, stars on the ground. It’s hard to tell where the sky ends and the earth begins. I feel the need to say something grand and poetic, but the only thing I come up with is “It’s lovely.”
He says, “ ‘Lovely’ is a lovely word that should be used more often.”
Then I get an idea. Over my desk, I’ve got this enormous bulletin board, and on it I’ve tacked black-and-white photographs of writers at work. I take these down and dig through my desk until I come up with a stack of brightly colored Post-its. On one of them, I write: lovely.
Half an hour later, I stand back and look at the board. It is covered in fragments—some are words or sentences that may or may not become story ideas. Others are lines I like from books. In the last column, I have a section for New Nameless Web Magazine. On three separate Post-its I’ve tacked beneath it: Lit. Love. Life. I’m not sure what these are supposed to be—categories or articles or just nice-sounding words.
Even though it isn’t much yet, I take a picture and send it to Finch. I write: Look what you’ve got me doing. Every half hour, I check for a response, but by the time I go to bed, I still haven’t heard from him.
Days 23, 24, 25 …
Last night is like a puzzle—only not put together: all the pieces are scattered everywhere and some are missing. I wish my heart wouldn’t beat so fast.
I get out the books again and read the good words Decca left behind, but they blur on the page so that they don’t make sense. I can’t concentrate.
And then I start to clean and organize. I take down every single note until the wall is blank. I shove them into a trash bag, but this isn’t enough, so I decide to paint. I’m sick of the red walls of my room. The color is too dark and depressing. This is what I need, I think. A change of scenery. This is why the room feels off.
I get into Little B*****d and drive to the nearest hardware store and buy primer and ten gallons of blue paint because I’m not sure how much it will take.
* * *
It takes many, many coats to cover the red. No matter what I do, it seeps right through, like the walls are bleeding.
By midnight, the paint still isn’t dry, and so I gather up the black comforter and shove it into the back of the linen closet in the hall, and I dig around until I find an old blue comforter of Kate’s. I spread this on my bed. I open the windows and move my bed into the middle of the room, and then I climb under the blanket and go to sleep.
The next day, I paint the walls again. It takes two days for them to hold the color, which is the clear, bright blue of a swimming pool. I lie on my bed feeling easier, like I can catch my breath. Now we’re talking, I think. Yes.
The only thing I leave alone is the ceiling, because white contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum at full brightness. Okay, this is technically true of white light and not white paint, but I don’t care. I tell myself that all the colors are there anyway, and this gives me an idea. I think of writing it as a song, but instead I sign onto the computer and send a message to Violet. You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.
135, 134, 133 days to go
Finch doesn’t show up at school for a week. Someone says he’s been suspended, others say he overdosed and was carted off to rehab. The rumors spread the old-fashioned way—in whispers and texts—because Principal Wertz has found out about the Bartlett Dirt and shut it down.
Wednesday. First period. In honor of the Dirt’s demise, Jordan Gripenwaldt is passing out celebration candy. Troy Satterfield sticks two suckers in his mouth and says around them, “Where’s your boyfriend, Violet? Shouldn’t you be on suicide watch?” He and his friends laugh. Before I can say anything, Jordan yanks the suckers out of his mouth and throws them in the garbage.