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All the Bright Places (Page 5)

All the Bright Places(5)
Author: Jennifer Niven

“No.”

“Have you allowed yourself to ride in the car with your parents?”

“No.”

“But they want you to.” This isn’t a question. She says this like she’s talked to one or both of them, which she probably has.

“I’m not ready.” These are the three magic words. I’ve discovered they can get you out of almost anything.

She leans forward. “Have you thought about returning to cheerleading?”

“No.”

“Student council?”

“No.”

“You still play flute in the orchestra?”

“I’m last chair.” That’s something that hasn’t changed since the accident. I was always last chair because I’m not very good at flute.

She sits back again. For a moment I think she’s given up. Then she says, “I’m concerned about your progress, Violet. Frankly, you should be further along than you are right now. You can’t avoid cars forever, especially now that we’re in winter. You can’t keep standing still. You need to remember that you’re a survivor, and that means …”

I will never know what that means because as soon as I hear the word “survivor,” I get up and walk out.

On my way to fourth period. School hallway.

At least fifteen people—some I know, some I don’t, some who haven’t talked to me in months—stop me on my way to class to tell me how courageous I was to save Theodore Finch from killing himself. One of the girls from the school paper wants to do an interview.

Of all the people I could have “saved,” Theodore Finch is the worst possible choice because he’s a Bartlett legend. I don’t know him that well, but I know of him. Everyone knows of him. Some people hate him because they think he’s weird and he gets into fights and gets kicked out of school and does what he wants. Some people worship him because he’s weird and he gets into fights and gets kicked out of school and does what he wants. He plays guitar in five or six different bands, and last year he cut a record. But he’s kind of … extreme. Like he came to school one day painted head-to-toe red, and it wasn’t even Spirit Week. He told some people he was protesting racism and others he was protesting the consumption of meat. Junior year he wore a cape every day for an entire month, cracked a chalkboard in half with a desk, and stole all the dissecting frogs from the science wing and gave them a funeral before burying them in the baseball field. The great Anna Faris once said that the secret of surviving high school is to “lay low.” Finch does the opposite of this.

I’m five minutes late to Russian literature, where Mrs. Mahone and her wig assign us a ten-page paper on The Brothers Karamazov. Groans follow from everyone but me, because no matter what Mrs. Kresney seems to think, I have Extenuating Circumstances.

I don’t even listen as Mrs. Mahone goes over what she wants. Instead I pick at a thread on my skirt. I have a headache. Probably from the glasses. Eleanor’s eyes were worse than mine. I take the glasses off and set them on the desk. They were stylish on her. They’re ugly on me. Especially with the bangs. But maybe, if I wear the glasses long enough, I can be like her. I can see what she saw. I can be both of us at once so no one will have to miss her, most of all me.

The thing is, there are good days and bad days. I feel almost guilty saying they aren’t all bad. Something catches me off guard—a TV show, a funny one-liner from my dad, a comment in class—and I laugh like nothing ever happened. I feel normal again, whatever that is. Some mornings I wake up and I sing while I’m getting ready. Or maybe I turn up the music and dance. On most days, I walk to school. Other days I take my bike, and every now and then my mind tricks me into thinking I’m just a regular girl out for a ride.

Emily Ward pokes me in the back and hands me a note. Because Mrs. Mahone collects our phones at the start of every class, it’s the old-fashioned kind, written on notebook paper.

Is it true you saved Finch from killing himself? x Ryan. There is only one Ryan in this room—some would argue there’s only one Ryan in the whole school, maybe even the world—and that’s Ryan Cross.

I look up and catch his eye, two rows over. He is too good-looking. Broad shoulders, warm gold-brown hair, green eyes, and enough freckles to make him seem approachable. Until December, he was my boyfriend, but now we’re taking a break.

I let the note sit on my desk for five minutes before answering it. Finally, I write: I just happened to be there. x V. Less than a minute later, it’s passed back to me, but this time I don’t open it. I think of how many girls would love to receive a note like this from Ryan Cross. The Violet Markey of last spring would have been one of them.

When the bell rings, I hang back. Ryan lingers for a minute, waiting to see what I do, but when I just sit there, he collects his phone and goes on.

Mrs. Mahone says, “Yes, Violet?”

Ten pages used to be no big deal. A teacher would ask for ten and I would write twenty. If they wanted twenty, I’d give them thirty. Writing was what I did best, better than being a daughter or girlfriend or sister. Writing was me. But now writing is one of the things I can’t do.

I barely have to say anything, not even “I’m not ready.” It’s in the unwritten rulebook of life, under How to React When a Student Loses a Loved One and Is, Nine Months Later, Still Having a Very Hard Time.

Mrs. Mahone sighs and hands me my phone. “Give me a page or a paragraph, Violet. Just do your best.” My Extenuating Circumstances save the day.

Outside the classroom, Ryan is waiting. I can see him trying to figure out the puzzle so he can put me back together again and turn me into the fun girlfriend he used to know. He says, “You look really pretty today.” He is nice enough not to stare at my hair.

“Thanks.”

Over Ryan’s shoulder, I see Theodore Finch strutting by. He nods at me like he knows something I don’t, and he keeps on going.

FINCH

Day 6 (still) of being awake

By lunch, it’s all over school that Violet Markey saved Theodore Finch from jumping off the bell tower. On my way to U.S. Geography, I walk behind a group of girls in the hallway who are going on and on about it, no idea that I’m the one and only Theodore Finch.

They talk over each other in these high voices that always end in question marks, so that it sounds like I heard he had a gun? I heard she had to wrestle it out of his hands? My cousin Stacey, who goes to New Castle, says she and a friend were in Chicago and he was playing this club and he totally hooked up with both of them? Well, my brother was there when he set off the firecrackers, and he said before the police took him away, he was all “Unless you want to reimburse me, I’ll wait for the finale”?

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