You’re always so sensitive, Theodore. Ever since you were a little boy. Do you remember the cardinal? The one that kept flying into the glass doors off the living room? Over and over, he knocked himself out, and you said, “Bring him in to live with us so he won’t do that anymore.” Remember? And then one day we came home and he was lying on the patio, and he’d flown into the door one too many times, and you called his grave a mud nest and said, “None of this would have happened if you’d let him come in.”
I don’t want to hear about the cardinal again. Because the thing of it is, that cardinal was dead either way, whether he came inside or not. Maybe he knew it, and maybe that’s why he decided to crash into the glass a little harder than normal that day. He would have died in here, only slower, because that’s what happens when you’re a Finch. The marriage dies. The love dies. The people fade away.
I put on my sneakers and bypass Kate in the kitchen. She says, “Your girlfriend was just here looking for you.”
“I must have had my headphones on.”
“What happened to your lip and your eye? Please tell me she didn’t do that.”
“I ran into a door.”
She stares hard at me. “Everything okay with you?”
“Yeah. Super. I’m just going for a run.”
When I get back, the white of my bedroom ceiling is too bright, and so I turn it blue with what’s left of the paint.
133 days to go
Six o’clock. Living room of my house. My parents sit across from me, their brows creased and unhappy. It seems Principal Wertz called my mother when I failed to come back for the rest of third period, or show up for my fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-period classes.
My dad is still dressed in the suit he wore to work. He does most of the talking. “Where were you?”
“Technically, just across the street from school.”
“Where across the street?”
“What in the hell were you doing at the river during school, during winter?”
In her even, calm voice, Mom says, “James.”
“There was a fire alarm, and we were all outside, and Finch wanted me to see this rare Asian crane …”
“The boy I’m doing the project with. You met him.”
“How much is left to do on this project?”
“We have to visit one more place and then we need to put everything together.”
Mom says, “Violet, we’re very disappointed.” This is like a knife in my stomach. My parents have never believed in grounding us or taking away our phones or computers, all the things Amanda’s parents do to her when she gets caught breaking the rules. Instead, they talk to us and tell us how disappointed they are.
Me, I mean. They talk to me.
“This isn’t like you.” Mom shakes her head.
Dad says, “You can’t use losing your sister as an excuse to act out.” I wish, just once, they’d send me to my room.
“I wasn’t acting out. That wasn’t what it was. It’s just—I don’t cheer anymore. I quit student council. I suck at orchestra. I don’t have any friends or a boyfriend, because it’s not like the rest of the world stops, you know?” My voice is getting louder, and I can’t seem to do anything about it. “Everyone goes on with their lives, and maybe I can’t keep up. Maybe I don’t want to. The one thing I’m good at I can’t do anymore. I didn’t even want to work on this project, but it’s kind of the only thing I have going on.”
And then, because they won’t do it, I send myself to my room. I walk away from them just as my dad is saying, “First of all, kiddo, you are good at many things, not just one.…”
* * *
We eat dinner in almost-silence, and afterward my mother comes up to my bedroom and studies the bulletin board above my desk. She says, “What happened to EleanorandViolet.com?”
“I let it go. There wasn’t any point in keeping it.”
“I guess not.” Her voice is quiet, and when I look up, her eyes are red. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it,” she says, and then she sighs, and I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s a sigh full of pain and loss. She clears her throat and taps the paper that reads New Nameless Web Magazine. “So talk to me about this.”
“I might create another magazine. Or I might not. I think my brain just naturally went there because of EleanorandViolet.”
“You liked working on it.”
“I did, but if I started another one, I’d want it to be different. Not just the silly stuff, but also real thoughts, real writing, real life.”
She taps Lit, Love, Life. “And these?”
“I don’t know. They might be categories.”
She brings a chair over and sits next to me. And then she starts asking questions: Would this be for girls my age, or high school and beyond? Would I want to write all the content or work with contributors? What would be the purpose—why do I want to start another magazine to begin with? Because people my age need somewhere they can go for advice or help or fun or just to be without anyone worrying about them. Somewhere they can be unlimited and fearless and safe, like in their own rooms.
I haven’t thought most of this out, and so I answer, “I don’t know.” And maybe the whole thing is stupid. “If I do anything, I have to start over, but all I have is fragments of ideas. Just pieces.” I wave at the computer, then at the wall. “Like a germ of an idea for this, and a germ of an idea for that. Nothing whole or concrete.”
“ ‘Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.’ Pearl S. Buck. Maybe a germ is enough. Maybe it’s all you need.” She props her chin in her hand and nods at the computer screen. “We can start small. Open up a new document or pull out a blank piece of paper. We’ll make it our canvas. Remember what Michelangelo said about the sculpture being in the stone—it was there from the beginning, and his job was to bring it out. Your words are in there too.”
For the next two hours we brainstorm and make notes, and at the end of it all, I have a very rough outline of a webzine and a very rough sketch of regular columns falling under the categories of Lit, Love, and Life.
It’s nearly ten when she tells me good night. Mom lingers in the doorway and says, “Can you trust this boy, V?”
I turn in my chair. “Finch?”