The day of
She is oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. The same elements that are inside the rest of us, but I can’t help thinking she’s more than that and she’s got other elements going on that no one’s ever heard of, ones that make her stand apart from everybody else. I feel this brief panic as I think, What would happen if one of those elements malfunctioned or just stopped working altogether? I make myself push this aside and concentrate on the feel of her skin until I no longer see molecules but Violet.
As the song plays on the turntable, I hear one of my own that’s taking shape:
You make me love you …
The line plays over and over in my head as we move from standing to lying down.
You make me love you
You make me love you
You make me love you …
I want to get up and write it down and tack it to the wall. But I don’t.
Afterward, as we lie tangled up, kind of winded and Huh and Wow, she says, “I should get home.” We lie there a little longer and then she says it again. “I should get home.”
In the car, we hold hands and don’t talk about what happened. Instead of driving to her house, I take a detour. When I get to the Purina Tower, she wants to know what we’re doing.
I grab the blanket and pillow from the back and say, “I’m going to tell you a story.”
We climb up the steel ladder, all the way to the top. The air must be cold because I can see my breath, but I feel warm all the way through. We walk past the Christmas tree and I spread out the blanket. We lie down and wrap ourselves in and then I kiss her.
She is smiling as she pushes me away. “So tell me this story.” We lie back, her head on my shoulder, and, as if I ordered them, the stars are clear and bright. There are millions of them.
I say, “There was this famous British astronomer named Sir Patrick Moore. He hosted a BBC television program called Sky at Night, which ran for something like fifty-five years. Anyway, on April 1, 1976, Sir Patrick Moore announced on his show that something extraordinary was getting ready to happen in the skies. At exactly 9:47 a.m., P***o would pass directly behind J*****r, in relation to the earth. This was a rare alignment that meant the combined gravitational force of those two planets would exert a stronger tidal pull, which would temporarily counteract gravity here on earth and make people weigh less. He called this the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect.”
Violet is heavy against my arm, and for a minute I wonder if she’s asleep.
“Patrick Moore told viewers that they could experience the phenomenon by jumping in the air at the exact moment the alignment occurred. If they did, they would feel weightless, like they were floating.”
She shifts a little.
“At 9:47 a.m., he told everyone, ‘Jump now!’ Then he waited. One minute passed, and the BBC switchboard lit up with hundreds of people calling in to say they’d felt it. One woman phoned from Holland to say she and her husband had swum around the room together. A man called from Italy to say he and his friends had been seated at a table, and all of them—including the table—rose into the air. Another man called from the States to say he and his children had flown like kites in their backyard.”
Violet is propped up now, looking at me. “Did those things actually happen?”
“Of course not. It was an April Fool’s joke.”
She smacks my arm and lies back down. “You had me believing.”
“But I bring it up to let you know that this is the way I feel right now. Like P***o and J*****r are aligned with the earth and I’m floating.”
In a minute, she says, “You’re so weird, Finch. But that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
The morning after
I wake up before him, and the blanket is cocooned over us like a tent. I lie there for a while, enjoying the feel of his arm around me and the sound of his breathing. He’s so still and quiet, I barely recognize him. I watch the way his eyelids twitch as he dreams, and I wonder if he’s dreaming of me.
Like he can feel me watching, he opens his eyes.
“You’re real,” he says.
“Not a Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect.”
“In that case”—he grins wickedly—“I hear that P***o and J*****r and the earth are about to align. I wonder if you want to join me in a floating experiment.” He pulls me in closer and the blanket shifts. I blink into the brightness and the cold.
As it hits me.
As in the sun is coming up.
As in the sun went down at some point, and I never went home or called my parents to let them know where I was. As in we are still on top of the Purina Tower, where we have spent the night.
“It’s morning,” I say, and I feel like I’m going to be sick.
Finch sits up, his face gone blank. “S**t.”
It feels like years before we are down the twenty-five thousand steps and back on the ground. I phone my parents as Finch tears out of the parking lot. “Mom? It’s me.” At the other end of the line she bursts into tears, and then my dad is on, saying, “Are you okay? Are you safe?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. I’m coming. I’m almost there.”
Finch breaks speed records to get me home, but he doesn’t say a word to me, maybe because he’s concentrating so hard on the driving. I don’t say anything either until we turn the corner onto my street. It hits me all over again, this thing I’ve done. “Oh my God,” I say into my hands. Finch jerks to a stop and we are out of the car and rushing up the walk. The door to the house is standing open, and I can hear voices inside, rising and falling.
“You should go,” I tell him. “Let me talk to them.”
But at that moment my dad appears, and he looks like he’s aged twenty years overnight. His eyes run over my face, making sure I’m okay. He pulls me in and hugs me tight, almost strangling the breath out of me. Then he is saying over my head, “Go inside, Violet. Tell Finch good-bye.” It sounds final, the way he says it, like Tell Finch good-bye because you will never see him again.
Behind me, I hear Finch: “We lost track of time. It’s not Violet’s fault, it’s mine. Please don’t blame her.”