But for now, for the rest of the week, we see each other only at school, kissing under stairwells or in dark corners. In the afternoons we go our separate ways. At night we talk online.
Finch: Any change?
Me: If you mean my parents, no.
Finch: What are the odds of them forgiving and forgetting?
The truth is, the odds aren’t very good. But I don’t want to say this because he’s worried enough, and ever since that night, there’s something pulled in about him, as if he’s standing behind a curtain.
Me: They just need time.
Finch: I hate to be all Romeo and Juliet about this, but I want to see you alone. As in when we’re not surrounded by the entire population of Bartlett High.
Me: If you came over here and I sneaked out or sneaked you in, they really would lock me in the house forever.
We go back and forth for the next hour thinking up wild scenarios for seeing each other, including a faked alien abduction, triggering the citywide tornado alarm, and digging an underground tunnel that would stretch from his side of town to mine.
It’s one a.m. when I tell him I have to get some sleep, but I end up lying in bed, eyes open. My brain is awake and racing, the way it used to be before last spring. I turn on my light and sketch out ideas for Germ—Ask a Parent, book playlists, monthly soundtracks, lists of places where girls like me can get involved. One of the things I want to create is a Wander section where readers can send in pictures or videos of their favorite grand, small, bizarre, poetic, nothing-ordinary sites.
I email Brenda and send Finch a note, in case he’s still awake. And then, even though it’s jumping the gun a little, I write to Jordan Gripenwaldt, Shelby Padgett, Ashley Dunston, the three Brianas, and reporter Leticia Lopez, inviting them to contribute. Also Brenda’s friend Lara, and other girls I know who are good writers or artists or have something original to say: Dear Chameli, Brittany, Rebekah, Emily, Sa’iyda, Priscilla, Annalise … Eleanor and I were EleanorandViolet.com, but as far as I’m concerned, the more voices here, the better.
I think about asking Amanda. I write her a letter and leave it in my drafts folder. When I get up the next morning, I delete it.
On Saturday, I eat breakfast with my parents and then I tell them I’m going to ride my bike over to Amanda’s house. They don’t question me about why I want to hang out with this person I barely like or what we’re planning to do or when I’ll be back. For some reason, they trust Amanda Monk.
I ride past her house and continue across town to Finch’s, and the whole thing is so easy, even though I have this weird stitch in my chest because I just lied to my parents. When I get there, Finch makes me crawl up the fire escape and climb in the window so I don’t run into his mom or sisters.
“Do you think they saw?” I brush the dust off my jeans.
“I doubt it. They’re not even home.” He laughs when I pinch his arm, and then his hands are on my face and he’s kissing me, which makes the stitch disappear.
Because his bed is stacked with clothes and books, he drags a comforter out of his closet and we lie on the floor, the blanket wrapped around us. Under the covers, we get naked and heated, and afterward we talk like children, the blanket up over our heads. We lie there whispering, as if someone might hear us, and for the first time I tell him about Germ. “I think this could actually be something, and it’s because of you,” I say. “When I met you, I was finished with all this. I didn’t think it mattered.”
“One, you worry about everything being filler, but the words you write will still be here when you’re gone. And two, you were finished with a lot of things, but you would have come around whether you met me or not.”
For some reason, I don’t like the way this sounds, as if a universe could exist in which I wouldn’t know Finch. But then we’re under the blanket again discussing all the places in the world we want to wander, which somehow turns into all the places in the world we want to Do It.
“We’ll take this show on the road,” says Finch, tracing lazy circles on my shoulder, down my arm, over to my hip. “We’ll wander every state, and after we check them off, we’ll go across the ocean and start wandering there. It will be a Wander-athon.”
Without consulting the computer, we list the places we might go, taking turns. And then for some reason I have that feeling again, as if he’s stepped behind a curtain. And then the stitch returns and I can’t help thinking of all I’m doing to be here—sneaking around behind my parents’ backs, for one, lying to them, for another.
At some point I say, “I should probably go.”
He kisses me. “Or you could stay a little longer.”
So I do.
Noon. NYU campus, New York, New York.
My mom says, “Your father and I are glad to have this time with you, honey. It’s good for all of us to get away.” She means away from home, but I think, more than that, she means away from Finch.
I’m carrying our wandering notebook so that I can make notes on the buildings and the history and anything interesting that I might want to share with him. My parents are discussing how I can apply for spring admission next year and transfer from whatever school I choose for fall.
I’m more worried about why Finch hasn’t answered my last three texts. I wonder if this is the way it will be next year if I come to New York, or wherever I go—me trying to concentrate on college, on life, when all I’m doing is thinking about him. I wonder if he’ll come with me, or if our built-in ending is high school.
My mom says, “It’ll be here before we know it, and I’m not ready. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.”
“Don’t start crying, Mom. You promised. We’ve still got lots of time to go, and we don’t know where I’m going to end up.”
My dad says, “Just an excuse to come see her and spend time in the city.” But his eyes go damp too.
Even though they don’t say it, I can feel all the expectation and weight surrounding us. It comes from the fact that they didn’t get to do this with their older daughter. They never got to take her to college and wish her a good freshman year, be safe, come home and see us, don’t forget we’re always a phone call away. It’s just one more moment they were cheated of, and one more I have to make up for because I’m all that’s left.