He dries off with his sweater, shakes his hair at me like a dog so that I get sprayed, and then pulls on his clothes. When he’s dressed again, he shoves his hat into his back pocket and smooths his hair off his face.
“We should go back to class,” I say. His lips are blue, but he’s not even shivering.
“I’ve got a better idea. Want to hear it?” Before he can tell me what it is, Ryan, Roamer, and Joe Wyatt come sliding down the embankment. “Great,” Finch says under his breath.
Ryan comes right over to me. “We saw you take off during the fire alarm.”
Roamer gives Finch a nasty look. “Is this part of the geography project? Are you wandering the riverbed or just each other?”
“Grow up, Roamer,” I say.
Ryan rubs my arms like he’s trying to warm me up. “Are you okay?”
I shrug him off. “Of course I’m okay. You don’t need to check up on me.”
Finch says, “I didn’t kidnap her, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Roamer says, “Did he ask you?”
Finch looks down at Roamer. He has a good three to four inches on him. “No, but I wish you would.”
“Lay off, Roamer,” I snap at him. My heart is battering away because I’m not sure what’s going to happen here. “It doesn’t matter what he says—you’re just looking for a fight.” I say to Finch, “Don’t make it worse.”
Roamer gets up in his face. “Why are you all wet? Decide to finally shower after all this time?”
“No, man, I’m saving that activity for when I see your mom later.”
Like that, Roamer jumps on Finch, and the two of them go rolling down the bank into the water. Joe and Ryan just stand there, and I say to Ryan, “Do something.”
“I didn’t start this.”
“Well, do something anyway.”
Roamer swings and hits Finch’s face with a thud. He swings again and again, his fist smashing into Finch’s mouth, into his nose, into his ribs. At first Finch isn’t fighting back—he’s just blocking the shots. But then he has Roamer’s arm twisted behind his back, and he’s plunging his head into the water and holding it under.
“Let him go, Finch.”
He either doesn’t hear me or isn’t listening. Roamer’s legs are thrashing, and Ryan has Finch by the collar of his black sweater, and then by the arm, and is pulling on him. “Wyatt, some help here.”
“Let him go.” Finch looks at me then, and for a second it’s like he doesn’t know who I am. “Let him go.” I snap it at him like I’m talking to a dog or a child.
Just like that, he lets him go, straightens, picks Roamer up, and drops him onto the bank, where he lies coughing up water. Finch goes stalking up the hill, past Ryan and Joe and me. His face is bloody, and he doesn’t wait or look back.
I don’t bother going back to school, because the damage is done. Because Mom won’t expect me home yet, I sneak over to the parking lot, unlock Leroy, and ride to the east side of town. I cruise up and down the streets until I find the two-story brick colonial. FINCH, it says on the mailbox.
I knock on the door, and a girl with long black hair answers. “Hey,” she says to me, like she’s not surprised I’m there. “So you must be Violet. I’m Kate.”
I’m always fascinated by how the same genes rearrange themselves across brothers and sisters. People thought Eleanor and I were twins, even though her cheeks were narrower and her hair was lighter. Kate looks like Finch, but not. Same coloring, different features, except for the eyes. It’s strange seeing his eyes in someone else’s face.
“Is he here?”
“I’m sure he’s up there somewhere. I’m guessing you know where his room is.” She smirks a little, but in a nice way, and I wonder what he’s told her about me.
Upstairs, I knock on his door. “Finch?” I knock again. “It’s Violet.” There’s no answer. I try the door, which is locked. I knock again.
I tell myself he must be sleeping or have his headphones on. I knock again and again. I reach into my pocket for the bobby pin I carry with me, just in case, and bend down to examine the lock. The first one I ever picked was to the closet in my mom’s office. Eleanor put me up to it because that’s where our parents hid the Christmas presents. I discovered lock picking was a skill that comes in handy when you want to disappear during gym class or when you just need some peace and quiet.
I give the knob a shake and then put the bobby pin away. I could probably pick this lock, but I won’t. If Finch wanted to let me in, he would.
When I get back downstairs, Kate is standing at the sink smoking a cigarette out the kitchen window, her hand dangling over the sill. “Was he in there?” When I say no, she throws her cigarette down the garbage disposal. “Huh. Well, maybe he’s asleep. Or he could have gone running.”
“About fifteen times a day.”
It’s my turn to say, “Huh.”
“You never can tell what that boy’s going to do.”
Day 27 (I am still here)
I stand at the window and watch her climb onto her bike. Afterward, I sit on the shower floor, the water beating down on my head, for a good twenty minutes. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.
I turn on the computer because it’s a connection to the world, and maybe that’s what I need right now. The brightness of the screen hurts my eyes, and so I dim it way down until the shapes and letters are near shadows. This is better. I sign onto Facebook, which belongs only to Violet and me. I start at the beginning of our message chain and read every word, but the words don’t make sense unless I hold my head and repeat them out loud.
I try to read my downloaded version of The Waves, and when that isn’t any better, I think, It’s the computer. It’s not me. And I find a regular book and thumb through it, but the lines dance across the page like they’re trying to get away from me.
I will stay awake.
I will not sleep.
I think of ringing up ol’ Embryo. I go so far as to fish his number out from the bottom of my backpack and punch it into my phone. I don’t press Call.
I can go downstairs right now and let my mom know how I’m feeling—if she’s even home—but she’ll tell me to help myself to the Advil in her purse and that I need to relax and stop getting myself worked up, because in this house there’s no such thing as being sick unless you can measure it with a thermometer under the tongue. Things fall into categories of black and white—bad mood, bad temper, loses control, feels sad, feels blue.