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All the Bright Places (Page 43)

All the Bright Places(43)
Author: Jennifer Niven

“Finch.”

“Goggles,” she says. “Sounds serious.” She gives me a hopeful little smile.

“Sorry, Mom. He’s just a friend.”

I don’t know why I say this, but I don’t want them asking me what he means or what this is, especially when I’m not really sure myself.

“Maybe in time. There’s always time,” she replies, which is something Eleanor used to say.

I look at my mom to see if she realizes she’s quoted her, but if she does realize it, she doesn’t show it. She is too busy examining the goggles, asking my dad if he remembers the days he used to send her things when he was trying to convince her to go out with him.

Upstairs, I write, Thanks for the goggles. What are they for? Please tell me you don’t want us to use them for Someday.

Finch writes back, Wait and see. We’ll use them soon. We’re watching for the first warm day. There’s always one that sneaks in during the middle of winter. Once we nail the b*****d down, we go. Don’t forget the goggles.

FINCH

The first warm day

The second week of February there’s a blizzard that leaves the entire town without power for two days. The best thing about it is that school is canceled, but the worst thing is that the snow is so high and the air so bitter cold, you can barely stay out in it for more than five minutes at a time. I tell myself it’s only water in a different form, and I walk all the way to Violet’s, where we build the world’s largest snowman. We name him Mr. Black and decide he’ll be a destination for others to see when they’re wandering. Afterward, we sit with her parents around the fire and I pretend I’m part of the family.

Once the roads are clear, Violet and I creep very, very carefully down them to see the Painted Rainbow Bridge, the Periodic Table Display, the Seven Pillars, and the lynching and burial site of the Reno brothers, America’s first train robbers. We climb the sheer, high walls of Empire Quarry, where they got the 18,630 tons of stone needed to build the Empire State Building. We visit the Indiana Moon Tree, which is a giant sycamore more than thirty years old that grew from a seed taken to the moon and brought back. This tree is nature’s rock star because it’s one of only fifty left alive from an original set of five hundred.

We go to Kokomo to hear the hum in the air, and we park Little B*****d in neutral at the base of Gravity Hill and roll to the top. It is like the world’s slowest roller coaster, but somehow it works, and minutes later we’re at the peak. Afterward, I take her out for a Valentine’s Day dinner at my favorite restaurant, Happy Family, which sits at the end of a strip mall about fifteen miles from home. It serves the best Chinese food east of the Mississippi.

The first warm day falls on a Saturday, which is how we end up in Prairieton at the Blue Hole, a three-acre lake that sits on private property. I collect our offerings—the stubs of her SAT number 2 pencils and four broken guitar strings. The air is so warm, we don’t even need jackets, just sweaters, and after the winter we’ve been through so far, it feels almost tropical.

I hold out my hand and lead her up the embankment and down the hill to a wide, round pool of blue water, ringed by trees. It’s so private and silent that I pretend we’re the only two people on earth, which is how I wish it could be for real.

“Okay,” she says, letting out a long breath, as if she’s been holding it all this time. The goggles hang around her neck. “What is this place?”

“This,” I say, “is the Blue Hole. They say it’s bottomless, or that the bottom is quicksand. They say there’s a force in the middle of the lake that sucks you down into an underground river that flows right into the Wabash. They say it leads you to another world. That it was a hiding place for pirates burying treasure, and for Chicago bootleggers burying bodies and dumping stolen cars. That in the 1950s a group of teenage boys went swimming here and disappeared. In 1969, two sheriff’s deputies launched an expedition to explore the Hole, but they didn’t find any cars or treasure or bodies. They also didn’t find the bottom. What they did find was a whirlpool that nearly sucked them down.”

I’ve ditched the red cap, gloves, and black sweater, and am wearing a navy pullover and jeans. I’ve cut my hair shorter, and when she first saw me, Violet said, “All-American Finch. Okay.” Now I kick off my shoes and yank off the shirt. It’s almost hot in the sun, and I want to go swimming. “Bottomless blue holes exist all over the world, and each one has these kinds of myths associated with it. They were formed as caverns, thousands of years ago during the last ice age. They’re like black holes on earth, places where nothing can escape and time and space come to an end. How bloody awesome is it that we actually have one of our own?”

She glances back toward the house and the car and the road, then smiles up at me. “Pretty awesome.” She kicks off her shoes and pulls off her shirt and pants so that, in seconds, she is standing there in only her bra and underwear, which are a kind of dull rose color but somehow the sexiest things I’ve ever seen.

I go totally and utterly speechless and she starts to laugh. “Well, come on. I know you’re not shy, so drop your pants and let’s do this. I assume you want to see if the rumors are true.” My mind draws a blank, and she juts one hip out, Amanda Monk–style, resting a hand on it. “About it being bottomless?”

“Oh yeah. Right. Of course.” I slide off my jeans so I’m in my boxers, and I take her hand. We walk to the rock ledge that surrounds part of the Hole and climb up onto it. “What are you most afraid of?” I say before we jump. I can already feel my skin starting to burn from the sun.

“Dying. Losing my parents. Staying here for the rest of my life. Never figuring out what I’m supposed to do. Being ordinary. Losing everyone I love.” I wonder if I’m included in that group. She is bouncing on the balls of her feet, as if she’s cold. I try not to stare at her chest as she does because, whatever else he is, All-American Finch is not a perv. “What about you?” she asks. She fits the goggles into place. “What are you most afraid of?”

I think, I’m most afraid of Just be careful. I’m most afraid of the Long Drop. I’m most afraid of Asleep and impending, weightless doom. I’m most afraid of me.

“I’m not.” I take her hand, and together we leap through the air. And in that moment there’s nothing I fear except losing hold of her hand. The water is surprisingly warm and, below the surface, strangely clear and, well, blue. I look at her, hoping her eyes are open, and they are. With my free hand, I point below, and she nods, her hair fanning out like seaweed. Together, we swim, still linked, like a person with three arms.

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