“I think so. Right now, he’s pretty much the only friend I have.” I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.
After she goes, I curl up on my bed, computer on my lap. There’s no way I’ll be able to create all the content. I write down a couple of names, including Brenda Shank-Kravitz, Jordan Gripenwaldt, and Kate Finch with a question mark beside it.
Germ. I do a search, and it’s available—www.germmagazine.com. Five minutes later, it’s purchased and registered. My stone.
I switch to Facebook and send Finch a message: I hope you’re okay. Came by to see you earlier, but you weren’t there. My parents found out about skipping school and aren’t happy. I think this may mark the end of our wandering.
My light is off and my eyes are closed when I realize that for the first time I’ve forgotten to cross off the day on my calendar. I get up, feet hitting the cool wood floor, and walk over to my closet door. I pick up the black marker that I always leave within reach, uncap it, hold it up. And then my hand freezes in midair. I look at all the days laid out until graduation and freedom and I feel a strange clutching in my chest. They are only a collection of days, less than half a year, and then who knows where I go and what I do?
I cap the marker and grab one corner of the calendar and rip it down. I fold it up and shove it into the back of my closet, tossing the pen in after it. Then I slip out of my room and down the hall.
Eleanor’s door is closed. I push it open and go inside. The walls are yellow and covered in pictures of Eleanor and her Indiana friends, Eleanor and her California friends. The California state flag hangs above her bed. Her art supplies are piled in a corner. My parents have been working in here, slowly organizing her things.
I set her glasses down on her dresser. “Thanks for the loan,” I say. “But they make my head hurt. And they’re ugly.” I can almost hear her laughing.
The next morning when I come downstairs, Theodore Finch is sitting at the dining-room table with my parents. His red cap is hooked on the back of his chair and he’s drinking orange juice, an empty plate in front of him. His lip is split and there’s a bruise on his cheek.
“You look better without the glasses,” he says.
“What are you doing here?” I stare at him, at my parents.
“I’m eating breakfast. The most important meal of the day. But the real reason I came is that I wanted to explain about yesterday. I told your parents it was my idea and that you didn’t want to cut class. How you were only trying to keep me from getting in trouble by talking me into going back.” Finch helps himself to more fruit and another waffle.
My dad says, “We also discussed some ground rules for this project of yours.”
“So I can still work on it?”
“Theodore and I have an understanding, don’t we?” Dad serves me a waffle and passes my plate down.
“Yes, sir.” Finch winks at me.
My dad fixes him with a look. “An understanding not to be taken lightly.”
Finch composes himself. “No, sir.”
Mom says, “We told him we’re putting our trust in him. We appreciate that he’s gotten you back in the car again. We want you to have fun, within reason. Just be safe, and go to class.”
“Okay.” I feel like I’m in a daze. “Thank you.”
My father turns to Finch. “We’ll need your phone number and contact info for your parents.”
“Whatever you need, sir.”
“Is your father the Finch of Finch Storage?”
“Ted Finch, former hockey player?”
“That’s the one. But we haven’t spoken in years. He left when I was ten.”
I’m staring at him as my mom says, “I’m so sorry.”
“At the end of the day, we’re better off without him, but thank you.” He gives my mom a sad and wounded smile, and unlike the story he’s telling her, the smile is real. “My mother works at Broome Real Estate and Bookmarks. She isn’t home much, but if you have a pen, I’ll give you her number.”
I’m the one who brings him the pen and the paper, setting it down beside him, trying to catch his eye, but his dark head is bent over the notepad and he’s writing in straight block letters: Linda Finch, followed by all her numbers, work, home, and cell, and then Theodore Finch, Jr., followed by his own cell. The letters and numbers are neat and careful, like they were drawn by a child expecting to be graded. As I hand the paper to my dad, I want to say, That’s another lie. That’s not even his real handwriting. There is nothing about this boy that is neat and careful.
My mom smiles at my dad, and it’s a smile that means “time to lighten up.” She says to Finch, “So what are your college plans?” And the conversation turns chatty. When she asks Finch if he’s thought about what he wants to do beyond college, as in with his life, I pay attention because I actually don’t know the answer.
“It changes every day. I’m sure you’ve read For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Mom answers yes for both of them.
“Well, Robert Jordan knows he’s going to die. ‘There is only now,’ he says, ‘and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion.’ None of us knows how long we have, maybe another month, maybe another fifty years—I like living as if I only have that two days.” I’m watching my parents as Finch talks. He is speaking matter-of-factly but quietly, and I know this is out of respect for the dead, for Eleanor, who didn’t have very long.
My dad takes a drink of coffee and leans back, getting comfortable. “The early Hindus believed in living life to the fullest. Instead of aspiring to immortality, they aspired to living a healthy, full life.…” He wraps up a good fifteen minutes later, with their earliest concept of the afterlife, which is that the dead reunite with Mother Nature to continue on earth in another form. He quotes an ancient Vedic hymn: “ ‘May your eye go to the Sun, To the wind your soul …’ ”
“ ‘Or go to the waters if it suits thee there,’ ” Finch finishes.
My dad’s eyebrows shoot up toward his hairline, and I can see him trying to figure this kid out.
Finch says, “I kind of have this thing about water.”
My father stands, reaches for the waffles, and drops two onto Finch’s plate. Inwardly, I let out a sigh of relief. Mom asks about our “Wander Indiana” project, and for the rest of breakfast, Finch and I talk about some of the places we’ve been so far, and some of the places we’re planning to go. By the time we’re done eating, my parents have become “Call me James” and “Call me Sheryl,” instead of Mr. and Mrs. Markey. I half expect us to sit there all day with them, but then Finch turns to me, blue eyes dancing. “Ultraviolet, time’s a-wastin’. We need to get this show on the road.”