Embryo once again narrows his eyes to a squint and stares at me hard, trying to induce a sweat. “And can we expect you to show up and stay out of trouble this semester?”
“And keep up with your classwork?”
“I’ll arrange the drug test with the nurse.” He jabs the air with his finger, pointing at me. “Probation means ‘period of testing somebody’s suitability; period when student must improve.’ Look it up if you don’t believe me, and for Christ’s sake, stay alive.”
The thing I don’t say is: I want to stay alive. The reason I don’t say it is because, given that fat folder in front of him, he’d never believe it. And here’s something else he’d never believe—I’m fighting to be here in this shitty, messed-up world. Standing on the ledge of the bell tower isn’t about dying. It’s about having control. It’s about never going to sleep again.
Embryo stalks around his desk and gathers a stack of “Teens in Trouble” pamphlets. Then he tells me I’m not alone and I can always talk to him, his door is open, he’s here, and he’ll see me on Monday. I want to say no offense, but that’s not much of a comfort. Instead, I thank him because of the dark circles under his eyes and the smoker’s lines etched around his mouth. He’ll probably light up a cigarette as soon as I go. I take a heaping pile of pamphlets and leave him to it. He never once mentioned Violet, and I’m relieved.
154 days till graduation
Friday morning. Office of Mrs. Marion Kresney, school counselor, who has small, kind eyes and a smile too big for her face. According to the certificate on the wall above her head, she’s been at Bartlett High for fifteen years. This is our twelfth meeting.
My heart is still racing and my hands are still shaking from being up on that ledge. I have gone cold all over, and what I want is to lie down. I wait for Mrs. Kresney to say: I know what you were doing first period, Violet Markey. Your parents are on their way. Doctors are standing by, ready to escort you to the nearest mental health facility.
But we start as we always do.
“How are you, Violet?”
“I’m fine, and you?” I sit on my hands.
“I’m fine. Let’s talk about you. I want to know how you’re feeling.”
“I’m good.” Just because she hasn’t brought it up does not mean she doesn’t know. She almost never asks anything directly.
“How are you sleeping?”
The nightmares started a month after the accident. She asks about them every time I see her, because I made the mistake of mentioning them to my mom, who mentioned them to her. This is one of the main reasons why I’m here and why I’ve stopped telling my mom anything.
“I’m sleeping fine.”
The thing about Mrs. Kresney is that she always, always smiles, no matter what. I like this about her.
“Any bad dreams?”
I used to write them down, but I don’t anymore. I can remember every detail. Like this one I had four weeks ago where I was literally melting away. In the dream, my dad said, “You’ve come to the end, Violet. You’ve reached your limit. We all have them, and yours is now.” But I don’t want it to be. I watched as my feet turned into puddles and disappeared. Next were my hands. It didn’t hurt, and I remember thinking: I shouldn’t mind this because there isn’t any pain. It’s just a slipping away. But I did mind as, limb by limb, the rest of me went invisible before I woke up.
Mrs. Kresney shifts in her chair, her smile fixed on her face. I wonder if she smiles in her sleep.
“Let’s talk about college.”
This time last year, I would have loved to talk about college. Eleanor and I used to do this sometimes after Mom and Dad had gone to bed. We’d sit outside if it was warm enough, inside if it was too cold. We imagined the places we would go and the people we would meet, far away from Bartlett, Indiana, population 14,983, where we felt like aliens from some distant planet.
“You’ve applied to UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Florida, the University of Buenos Aires, Northern Caribbean University, and the National University of Singapore. This is a very diverse list, but what happened to NYU?”
Since the summer before seventh grade, NYU’s creative writing program has been my dream. This is thanks to visiting New York with my mother, who is a college professor and writer. She did her graduate work at NYU, and for three weeks the four of us stayed in the city and socialized with her former teachers and classmates—novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, poets. My plan was to apply for early admission in October. But then the accident happened and I changed my mind.
“I missed the application deadline.” The deadline for regular admission was one week ago today. I filled everything out, even wrote my essay, but didn’t send it in.
“Let’s talk about the writing. Let’s talk about the website.”
She means EleanorandViolet.com. Eleanor and I started it after we moved to Indiana. We wanted to create an online magazine that offered two (very) different perspectives on fashion, beauty, boys, books, life. Last year, Eleanor’s friend Gemma Sterling (star of the hit Web series Rant) mentioned us in an interview, and our following tripled. But I haven’t touched the site since Eleanor died, because what would be the point? It was a site about sisters. Besides, in that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too.
“I don’t want to talk about the website.”
“I believe your mother is an author. She must be very helpful in giving advice.”
“Jessamyn West said, ‘Writing is so difficult that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.’ ”
She lights up at this. “Do you feel you’re being punished?” She is talking about the accident. Or maybe she is referring to being here in this office, this school, this town.
“No.” Do I feel I should be punished? Yes. Why else would I have given myself bangs?
“Do you believe you’re responsible for what happened?”
I tug on the bangs now. They are lopsided. “No.”
She sits back. Her smile slips a fraction of an inch. We both know I’m lying. I wonder what she would say if I told her that an hour ago I was being talked off the ledge of the bell tower. By now, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know.
“Have you driven yet?”