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All the Bright Places (Page 50)

All the Bright Places(50)
Author: Jennifer Niven

Before the three of us lose it right there, in the middle of campus, I say, “Dad, what can you tell us about the history of NYU?”

I have my own room at the hotel. It is narrow, with two windows, a dresser, and a giant TV cabinet that looks as if it might fall on you and crush you while you sleep.

The windows are closed tight, but I can still hear the noises of the city, which are so different from the ones I hear in Bartlett—sirens, yelling, music, garbage trucks rattling up and down.

“So, do you have a special boy back home?” my mom’s agent asked over dinner.

“No one in particular,” I answered her, and my parents exchanged a look of relief and conviction that yes, they did the right thing by chasing Finch away.

The only light in the room is from my laptop. I skim through our notebook, thick with words, and then through our Facebook messages—so many now—and then I write a new one, quoting Virginia Woolf: “Let us wander whirling to the gilt chairs.… Are we not acceptable, moon? Are we not lovely sitting together here …?”

FINCH

Day 64 of the awake

On the last Sunday of spring break it snows again, and for an hour or so, everything is white. We spend the morning with Mom. I help Decca in the yard, building a half-snow, half-mud man, and then we walk six blocks to the hill behind my grade school and go sledding. We race each other, and Decca wins every time because it makes her happy.

On the way home she says, “You better not have let me win.”

“Never.” I throw an arm around her shoulders and she doesn’t pull away.

“I don’t want to go to Dad’s,” she says.

“Me neither. But you know deep down it means a lot to him, even though he doesn’t show it.” This is something my mother has said to me more than once. I don’t know that I believe it, but there’s a chance Decca might. As tough as she is, she wants to believe in something.

In the afternoon, we head over to my father’s house, where we sit inside, scattered around the living room, hockey playing on yet another giant flat screen that has been implanted into the wall.

Dad is alternately shouting at the television and listening to Kate talk about Colorado. Josh Raymond sits at my father’s elbow staring at the game and chewing each mouthful forty-five times. I know because I’m so bored, I start counting.

At some point, I get up and go to the bathroom, mainly just to clear my head and text Violet, who comes home today. I sit waiting for her to text me back, flipping the faucets on and off. I wash my hands, wash my face, rummage through the cabinets. I am starting in on the shower rack when my phone buzzes. Home! Should I sneak over?

I write: Not yet. Am currently in hell, but will leave as soon as possible.

We go back and forth for a little while, and then I set off down the hallway, toward the noise and the people. I pass Josh Raymond’s room, and the door is ajar and he’s inside. I knock and he squeaks, “Come in.”

I go into what must be the largest room for a seven-year-old on the planet. The thing is so cavernous, I wonder if he needs a map, and it’s filled with every toy you can imagine, most requiring batteries.

I say, “This is quite a room you have, Josh Raymond.” I am trying not to let it bother me because jealousy is a mean, unpleasant feeling that only eats you from the inside, and I do not need to stand here, an almost-eighteen-year-old with a really sexy girlfriend, even if she’s not allowed to see me anymore, and worry about the fact that my stepbrother seems to own thousands of Legos.

“It’s okay.” He is sorting through a chest that contains—believe it or not—more toys, when I see them: two old-fashioned wooden stick horses, one black, one gray, that sit forgotten in a corner. These are my stick horses, the same ones I used to ride for hours when I was younger than Josh Raymond, pretending I was Clint Eastwood from one of the old movies my dad used to watch on our small, non-flat-screen TV. The one, incidentally, we still have and use.

“Those are pretty cool horses,” I say. Their names are Midnight and Scout.

He swivels his head around, blinks twice, and says, “They’re okay.”

“What are their names?”

“They don’t have names.”

I suddenly want to take the stick horses and march into the living room and whack my father over the head with them. Then I want to take them home with me. I’ll pay attention to them every day. I’ll ride them all over town.

“Where’d you get them?” I ask.

“My dad got them for me.”

I want to say, Not your dad. My dad. Let’s just get this straight right now. You already have a dad somewhere else, and even though mine isn’t all that great, he’s the only one I’ve got.

But then I look at this kid, at the thin face and the thin neck and the scrawny shoulders, and he’s seven and small for his age, and I remember what that was like. And I also remember what it was like growing up with my father.

I say, “You know, I had a couple of horses once, not as cool as these here, but they were still pretty tough. I named them Midnight and Scout.”

“Midnight and Scout?” He eyes the horses. “Those are good names.”

“If you want, you can have them.”

“Really?” He is looking up at me with owl eyes.

“Sure.”

Josh Raymond finds the toy he’s looking for—some sort of robocar—and as we walk out the door, he takes my hand.

Back in the living room, my father smiles his camera-ready SportsCenter smile and nods at me like we’re buddies. “You should bring your girlfriend over here.” He says this like nothing ever happened and he and I are the best of friends.

“That’s okay. She’s busy on Sundays.”

I can imagine the conversation between my father and Mr. Markey.

Your delinquent son has my daughter. At this moment, she is probably lying in a ditch thanks to him.

What did you think would happen? Damn right he’s a delinquent, and a criminal, and an emotional wreck, and a major-disappointment-weirdo-fuckup. Be grateful for your daughter, sir, because trust me, you would not want my son. No one does.

I can see Dad searching for something to say. “Well, any day is fine, isn’t it, Rosemarie? You just bring her by whenever you can.” He’s in one of his very best moods, and Rosemarie nods and beams. He slaps his hand against the chair arm. “Bring her over here, and we’ll put some steaks on the grill and something with beans and twigs on it for you.”

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